Space Force colonel exonerated for crash in England that severely injured two teens
Stars and Stripes December 13, 2023
An American military officer was acquitted by a British court this week of responsibility for a car crash in England earlier this year that left two teenage boys seriously injured, according to British media reports.
On Tuesday, a York Magistrates Court judge ruled the evidence insufficient to prove that Col. Benjamin Oakes’ driving caused the February crash, the U.K.’s Press Association reported.
Oakes faced two counts of careless driving resulting in injury stemming from a collision with a pickup truck, which then hit another car and the two teens, who were passing by the crash scene.
The collision happened at a junction in Harrogate, a northern city that is home to RAF Menwith Hill. The pickup truck’s driver, Sam Goodall, said he was driving between 25 and 30 mph when Oakes pulled into the road ahead of him, according to the Press Association.
Oakes told the court that poor visibility in the area requires drivers to “nose into” the road to get a better view, the Press Association said, adding that the judge agreed with him that it’s “in many ways a blind junction.”
Prosecutors also argued that Oakes caused the crash because he was used to driving on the other side of the road in the U.S., but there was no evidence to back up that claim, the Press Association said.
Both injured boys were 15 at the time. They suffered broken limbs and needed multiple surgeries, The Guardian reported, adding that they were buried in the rubble of a wall that the truck hit.
Oakes’ military email address indicates he’s assigned to the Space Force. RAF Menwith Hill, near the crash site, provides communications and intelligence support services to the U.K. and U.S., and has been described as the largest electronic monitoring station in the world.
The U.S. military in England on Wednesday was unable to say for sure where Oakes is currently based.
The crash involving Oakes comes a year after the sentencing of Anne Sacoolas, the wife of a U.S. intelligence officer, for a 2019 crash that killed a British motorcyclist outside RAF Croughton, another base in England used by U.S. forces.
Sacoolas received an eight-month suspended sentence after pleading guilty two months earlier to causing death by careless driving in the crash that killed 19-year-old Harry Dunn.
She returned to the U.S. days after the crash, and the U.S. invoked diplomatic immunity on her behalf, prompting an outcry in the U.K. and tensions between the two longtime allies.
Stars and Stripes reporter Kyle Alvarez contributed to this report.