Driver admits manslaughter of pedestrian

8 June 2010, 14:52 | Updated: 9 June 2010, 15:24

A 26-year-old man today admitted mowing down and killing an elderly woman in a hit-and-run collision following a high-speed police chase.

Joanna Hakesley, 70, suffered serious head injuries after she was struck by a stolen red Mazda in Church Road, Copthorne, near Crawley, West Sussex, on October 28 last year and died in hospital hours later.

Driver Leonard Jones fled the scene before dumping the vehicle in an underpass beneath Gatwick Airport and escaping on foot.
He was arrested by police a few days later and again tried to flee, before eventually being captured after officers Tasered him.

He was due to go on trial for manslaughter at Lewes Crown Court (pictured) today but changed his plea to guilty before it went ahead. He had also admitted two counts of dangerous driving at a previous hearing, which can now be reported.

Witnesses who saw the Mazda after the collision described him as driving like a ``cannonball'', and ``a complete lunatic'',  and expressed their fears that he was going to kill someone - little realising that he already had.

The police helicopter continued to monitor his movements, despite losing him for a while, and filmed him as he drove around a roundabout the wrong way before he eventually left the car at Gatwick Airport and fled on foot.

When he was arrested three days later on October 31 he refused to answer any questions put to him by police.

Sitting in the dock clean-shaven and dressed in a white shirt, Jones, of Rhodes Way, Furness Green, Crawley, watched film footage blankly without showing any emotion.

Prosecutor, Richard Barton told the court that he had was also awaiting sentence for a charge of burglary, which he had pleaded guilty to last December while on remand for this offence. Mr Barton said he also had a number of previous convictions for other motoring offences while a juvenile, including driving while disqualified and not having insurance. And he was sentenced to six years in a young offenders' institution after being convicted of a number of violent assaults in October 2001.

Judge Brown adjourned sentencing until July 5 for pre-sentence reports to be carried out but warned a substantial custodial sentence was ``inevitable''.

The incident was initially referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) because of the police pursuit of the Mazda before the crash but it was later sent back for local investigation.

A family tribute released by Sussex Police following Miss Hakesley's death said she was born in Broughton, Northamptonshire, in 1939. The statement added: ``She was a loving sister and someone who cared about her family and friends, especially her neighbours, whom she took it upon herself to care for.

``She will be greatly missed by all her family who cannot believe that she has been taken away so abruptly.''