A CONTRACTOR who loaded a bulldozer so dangerously that it almost killed a van driver going in the opposite direction has been given a suspended jail sentence.

Peter Knight had just bought the bulldozer and was transporting it back to his yard at Portgate, near Lewdown, when the nearside hit a tree and the bucket sliced through the top of the van.

Eyewitnesses said it cut through the van ‘like a knife through butter’ and they rushed to the scene fearing that its driver had been decapitated.

Driver Benjamin Pike was crushed by the steering column, turning blue and struggling to breathe and his life was saved by the quick thinking of another driver who had a power saw in his car which he used to free him.

The amateur footballer from Crediton was airlifted to hospital in Plymouth. He suffered cracked ribs, damage to his internal organs, a gash to his head and injuries to his arm which needed surgery and have left him permanently in pain.

He still suffers flashbacks in which he sees the bulldozer hurtling toward him and has been treated for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. He is no longer playing football and feels socially isolated.

Knight, who has run his groundworks and fencing business for 14 years, had fiddled his tachograph so he could make the round trip to pick up the bulldozer in Cambridgeshire in a single day.

He set off with it protruding 80 centimetres towards oncoming traffic and 50cm on the near side and made it back to Devon before turning onto the A386 at Sourton and crashing near the Bearslake Inn at Southerly at 3.55pm on December 15, 2020.

The collision with the tree forced the other side 1.3 metres outwards into oncoming traffic, making the accident inevitable.

The bulldozer was only held down by chains and there were no warnings or lights on the protruding parts. He should have had an escort on the journey to warn oncoming traffic but did not do so.

He had not had the mandatory rest period before he set out and had been driving since 2.20 am with only one rest break. He had used another driver’s tachograph card for the first part of the trip to hide his excessive hours.

Knight, aged 38, of Portgate, admitted causing serious injury through dangerous driving and making a false entry on a tachograph record.

He was jailed for two years, suspended for two years, ordered to do 200 hours unpaid community work and ten hours of rehabilitation activities, banned from driving for two years and told to pay £1,200 costs by Judge Peter Johnson at Exeter Crown Court.

He told him: ‘This was an accident waiting to happen. Your vehicle was clearly a significant danger because of the overhanging parts of the bulldozer. Finally, there was the fateful collision with Mr Pike’s van.’

‘I accept you are completely remorseful for what was an entirely avoidable collision.’

The judge said he was suspending the sentence because Knight’s eight employees would lose their jobs if he went straight to jail.

Nigel Wraith, prosecuting, said the bulldozer was loaded unsafely with parts overhanging the low loader and there was no escort vehicle or warning signs.