A Lincolnshire lottery winner who caused a fatal Christmas Day crash when he turned round to get a teddy for his two-year-old crying son was spared an immediate jail sentence on Thursday.
Matt Topham, 31, who won £45 million in 2012, admitted causing the death of Mary Jane Regler, 75, by careless driving after taking his eyes off the road for a “split second” in 2019.
Body camera footage from the first officer who arrived on the scene has now been shared by Lincolnshire Police, showing a visibly distressed Topham giving his account of how the collision happened.
A jury cleared the father-of-three of the more serious charge of causing Mrs Regler’s death by dangerous driving, and causing serious injury to her husband, Rodney, 78.
Today (Thursday) he was given a 16 week jail sentence suspended for two years with a three month electronically monitored curfew between 7pm and 7am.
He was banned from driving for 12 months and ordered to pass an extended retest before he can legally drive again.
During the trial Topham fought back tears as he described how he instinctively reached out for the bear after reacting to a “piercing scream” from his youngest son.
Mrs Regler, 75, died in the resulting head-on crash, which happened on Christmas Day 2019 after Topham veered onto the wrong side of the road at North Cockerington near Louth, Lincolnshire.
Topham, wearing a grey suit with a white open neck shirt and a navy blue mask, showed no emotion as the sentence was passed.
Passing sentence Judge Catarina Sjolin Knight told Topham: “This is a tragic case. I accept you looked back only for a moment.
“I find this was a deliberate decision to continue driving on a dark, winding country road while turning round. It was the wrong decision and one you should not have made.
“You knew he [his son] had just dropped his teddy bear. He wasn’t in danger. He was just upset. This was an avoidable distraction.”
The judge said that Topham was “obviously remorseful”.
She added: “I note that outside of this you live a quiet life. You have tried to use your lottery money to help others and to provide employment to others.”
The judge said that there was substantial personal mitigation on behalf of Topham, who had a clean driving licence, and she was able to suspend the prison sentence.
Rodney Regler, in a victim impact statement read out in court, said: “My life changed forever when my wife Jane and I were involved in a terrible collision.
“She was taken from me. I’ve always maintained justice would take its course. All I expect is that the driver is honest and tells the truth.
“I’m determined this will not make me a bitter man and that is how I handle the matters life has thrown at me. No matter what happens nothing can bring my wife back to me.
“It has ruined my life and I am sure it has ruined the other driver’s life. I bear the driver no malice but I will never forgive him for what he has done.”
The couple’s daughter Lesley said: “By losing my mum I have lost a massive part of my life. When mum was taken away from me something died inside of me.
“Heartbroken does not come close. I have lost the one person in my life who loved me with all her heart.”
The couple’s son David, who they spent Christmas dinner with, said: “Christmas will now always be a time tinged with sadness.”
He said that just hours after seeing his parents set off for home a police officer knocked on his door to deliver the devastating news.
He later had to break the news to his father that his mother had died.
During his evidence Topham became visibly upset as he described the “piercing scream” from his two-year-old son which made him turn round.
Topham said: “I truly believe it’s because the scream caused me to instantly react and get that teddy.
“For me it’s so hard because if I was consciously making a decision at that point, I would hope I would come to a better decision than I did that day.
“But truly his scream made me react and my reaction was terrible.”
He added: “Initially I put my hand back, and then turned my head to look at the child.”
The jury was read details of police interviews in which Topham admitted he was at fault saying: “I turned round to get the teddy and that was my mistake.”
When asked by defence QC Paul Greaney why he did not pull over in his BMW X6 to retrieve the teddy, Topham admitted: “I wish I had, but I didn’t.”
Topham added: “I can’t explain my own actions that night because I don’t believe it was right. It was wrong of me to turn around like that.”
Topham told jurors how he and wife Cassey won the lottery in 2012.
He said: “Winning the lottery has been life-changing. Paying off mortgages, buying cars and helping friends and family through life.
“We have got a close group of friends that are friends from school. We paid off all of their mortgages so they had a step up in life basically.
“We hired a villa in Marbella and took all of our close friends out to celebrate. It’s given us the freedom to give people that step up in life.”
Topham, who left school at 16 to work as a painter and decorator with his father, said the couple also now owned a “collection of cars”.
They also paid off his dad’s mortgage, helped him retire and achieved a “dream” for Cassey’s parents by buying Rushmoor country farm park near Louth, Lincolnshire.
It was at the farm park that the Tophams spent the afternoon of December 25, 2019 before leaving in two separate cars after watching Strictly Come Dancing.
Topham said his sons – aged five and two – were “tired from a busy Christmas Day” so he handed his youngest a teddy and owl blanket after strapping them into their car seats. The family dog was also in the boot.
He added: “As we set off down the road my eldest said that my youngest had dropped his teddy.”
Topham said he assumed his youngest son had fallen asleep and continued for a short distance before hearing the “piercing scream.”
“He literally just started a small whine, as children do, and then he just let out a massive scream and would not stop.”
Topham said his son’s scream sounds like a “burglar alarm in a small room” and makes him “go crazy”.
He explained: “When he was younger there were stages where I had to pass him to my wife and leave the room because I couldn’t deal with the noise.
“It’s so high-pitched, I guess just the right pitch for my ears ringing.”
The jury heard Topham looked up to see headlights in front of him after veering onto the wrong side of the road on a bend.
The accident happened shortly before 6pm near Mrs Regler’s home in North Cockerington, Lincolnshire.
Topham escaped with only minor injuries from the crash alongside his sons and pet dog.
Mrs Regler died of serious chest injuries while her husband, who was driving, sustained multiple fractures.
Topham told the jury: “I don’t remember hitting the car I just remember waking up to an airbag in my face and my children screaming.”
Topham said he has since returned to the scene to lay flowers on an anniversary out of “respect”.
He also recreated his actions during the accident on his driveway in a stationary car.
The court previously heard how Topham told officers he was distracted for “one, two, three, maybe three seconds”
But during his evidence Topham insisted: “I don’t believe in my heart of hearts that I turned around for three seconds that day.
“I honestly believe it was a split second I turned around for.”
Paul Greaney QC, for Topham, said: “He looked away for a very short period and certainly a matter of less than three seconds.
“Matt Topham was sober, he was well within the speed limit and he was driving a roadworthy vehicle. He was not on his phone, he was not driving aggressively or seeking to overtake. He made a single, tragic error of judgement.”
Topham, of Swinderby, Lincolnshire, admitted causing death by careless driving.
He denied causing Mrs Regler’s death by dangerous driving and causing serious injury to her husband by dangerous driving.
Detective Inspector Joanna Reeves from Lincolnshire Police’s Serious Collision Investigation Unit, said: “We send our condolences to Mr Regler and his family and our thoughts are very much with them today.
“The circumstances of the crash bring home just how very important it is for drivers to keep full attention on the road ahead.
“There are distractions both inside and outside of vehicles and while in hindsight the right thing for Matthew Topham to do would have been to find a safe place to pull over. He didn’t do that and he now lives with the consequences.”
Commenting on the video released after the trial, Lincolnshire Police said: “The footage shows the Officer speaking to Matthew Topham who gives his account of how the collision happened.
“He describes how easy it is to quickly lose control of your car and the devastating consequences that can happen as a result.
“Being distracted in what can seem like just a moment to do something, to find or move something or to look elsewhere than on the road takes a driver’s attention away from the vital task of being in control of their vehicle.
“Our duty is to investigate collisions in an unbiased way. At the end of the video the officer empathises that he knows how Matthew Topham feels.
“This comment was made in relation to personal experience of the officer being involved in a collision some years ago where sadly someone also died, he was in no way to blame for the collision.
“The video was shown in court but the judge directed the officers comments should not be considered by the Jury in coming to their verdict.”