A dozing lorry driver who killed a 'wonderful' dad in a head-on crash has been jailed.

Valentin Baluta, 29, was six-hours into his 12 hour shift when his MAN lorry drifted onto the wrong-side of the A420, near Faringdon, and into the path of an oncoming Mercedes Sprinter van that had travelled to the UK from Romania in order to deliver and pick up parcels for Christmas.

The passenger of the left-hand drive van Florin Hudescu, 41, was killed instantly while the driver, 44-year-old Onu Crisan, suffered broken ribs and toes.

The lorry driver was caught on his own dash cam ‘slaloming’ across the road in the 45 minutes before the crash at around 2am on December 12, 2020.

He slowed to speeds of 17mph, yawning, talking to himself and winding down the window to let in fresh air.

According to a crash report, tiredness was the cause of the collision and data on his mobile phone use the previous afternoon pointed to him having had at least broken sleep in the day before the crash.

Prosecutor Stefan Weidmann said: “It must have been clear for a considerable time to a professional driver he was dangerously fatigued.”

The lorry’s dashcam captured the vehicle drifting onto the wrong-side of the single-carriageway road and straight into the path of the left-hand drive Mercedes van.

The prosecutor said: “The van, tragically, had no chance because numberplate of that van is entirely off the road [and into the verge] so desperate so desperate is the attempt to avoid the oncoming lorry.”

In a victim personal statement read to the court, Mr Hudescu’s wife, Elena, said: “My dear husband, with tears in my eyes and pain in my heart, I say it’s only been 19 months since you left us.

“To me, it is as if it happened yesterday. I still don’t want to accept that you’re not with us anymore and the good Lord wanted you to be among angels.

“You were a wonderful husband and father. You left behind a terrible pain that will never pass.”

The driver of the Mercedes, who survived the crash but was unable to work for several months as a result of his injuries, said: “Apart from the injuries I have, in the end I lost a friend.” The court heard the two men were swapping positions during their mammoth drive back to Romania and had not long switched seats when the crash happened.

Jailing Baluta for three years and banning him from driving for four years, Judge Ian Pringle QC said: “It is clear that your vehicle was drifting towards the offside on a number of occasions some time 45 minutes before this collision occurred.”

The defendant kept his head bowed as the judge added: “You stopped on a number of occasions, you wound the window down, you were playing music, you were doing everything you could, really, to try and keep yourself awake and, of course, you didn’t stay awake and the results were catastrophic.”

Baluta, of Firmin Close, Ipswich, pleaded guilty to causing death and serious injury by dangerous driving. He had no previous convictions.

In a letter to the court, he said he wanted with all his heart to ‘give time back’. “I have already received a life sentence. Due to my fault a man lost his life.”

The defendant, who suffered serious facial injuries in the crash, and his family had donated anonymously to websites set up to raise funds for the victim’s relatives.

Mitigating, Tim Pole said his client had been training part-time to be a nurse and working as a lorry driver to finance his studies.

“He is a decent man, a decent man who has responded to his error in a decent way but, plainly, made a tragic error on the day that we are concerned with,” the lawyer said.

Judge Pringle said Baluta would be unable to drive until he passed an extended retest.

Read more from this author

This story was written by Tom Seaward. He joined the team in 2021 as Oxfordshire's court and crime reporter.  

To get in touch with him email: Tom.Seaward@newsquest.co.uk

Follow him on Twitter: @t_seaward