Car driver James Graham Davies, from Welshpool, had become disorientated because of diversions on the M42 – and had stopped to ask a Highways Agency worker on the opposite carriageway for directions.
He pleaded guilty at Warwick Crown Court earlier this month to causing the deaths of Welshpool pub landlady Barbara Jones and his own partner Christine Evans by dangerous driving.
At the resumed hearing Davies, 71, of Sguar Heulwen, Welshpool, was jailed for two years and four months and banned from driving for 11 years and two months, after which he will have to take an extended test to get his licence back.
Prosecutor Simon Davis said the case centred on events on January 5 this year at 3.18am on the M42 northbound between junctions 9 and 10 in Warwickshire.
Highways Agency employee Jake Ashmore was parked in his vehicle on the southbound carriageway, which was closed that night for maintenance work, with its orange warning lights flashing, when there was a tap on his window.
It was Davies, who began asking him for directions, and Mr Ashmore "looked across and saw the defendant’s vehicle parked in the outside lane of the northbound carriageway".
Davies, who with his partner Christine Evans had been taking Barbara Jones and her partner Gareth Isaac to Birmingham airport, had left his passengers in his Vauxhall Meriva.
“Mr Ashmore was immediately concerned, and ushered Mr Davies to the other side of the road, back towards his car, as quickly as he could,” said Mr Davis.
“It was obvious the defendant had parked in the fast lane of the northbound carriageway and crossed the central reservation and the closed southbound carriageway to the Highways vehicle.
“Mr Ashmore, recognising the danger, ordered the defendant to move his car. He got out of his vehicle and took two to three steps towards the car with the defendant.
“But within two to three seconds he saw a white van collide with the rear of the defendant’s vehicle.”
Mr Davis said Davies had been parked in the outside of the two lanes on that section of the motorway for no less than a minute and 15 seconds by the time of the impact.
Three drivers had managed to go past it on the inside, but the Mercedes Sprinter van, despite attempts by its driver to take evasive action, hit the car which was "projected forward and went into the air and rotated twice before coming to rest".
Ms Jones, aged 63, and 53-year-old Ms Evans, who had both been in the back of the Meriva, suffered multiple injuries and were declared dead at the scene.
When Davies was interviewed in March, he said he had been taking his friends to the airport and, with diversions in place, had got lost, and saw some workmen, so decided to pull up and ask for directions, thinking it was a safe place to stop.
Mr Davis added that after entering his pleas on November 9, Davies had been given an interim driving ban, but three days later had breached it when he was seen teaching someone to drive.
Jemma Gordon, defending, said: “Mr Davies finds himself before the court for the first time in his life in the most tragic of circumstances.
“A momentary decision affects those around us, and sometimes those effects are catastrophic.
“It is not just Christine Evans and Barbara Jones who are victims in this case, but their families. It’s a pain he will also suffer. He has to deal with the loss of his partner of 12 years and of his friend. He has asked me to express his condolences to the families.”
The court heard that neither family had submitted impact statements, but among the references handed in by Miss Gordon was one from Susan Evans on behalf of Ms Evans’s family.
Suggesting it was ‘an exceptional case’ which would allow the judge to suspend the sentence, she added that Davies had also had to cope with the death of his daughter since the incident.
But jailing Davies, Judge Anthony Potter told him: “The sad fact is that nothing I can do can reflect the loss of Mr Isaac’s partner Barbara Jones, or the loss to her family, and of your partner Christine Evans.
“This was rightly described as a terrible tragedy, and it will affect all of those people, including you, for many years.
“You set off from you home to drive your friend of many years, Mrs Jones, and her long-term partner to Birmingham airport; and Mrs Jones had persuaded her friend Mrs Evans to accompany you on the drive there and, more importantly, the drive back.
“Although you had driven to Birmingham Airport in the past, you were not particularly familiar with the M42, and when you encountered a diversion you became disorientated and you were heading north.
“The southbound carriageway had been closed for some work to be done, and for reasons that are hard to fathom, having become lost, you decided to stop, not on the hard shoulder, but on the outside carriageway of the motorway.
“You parked there and got out of your car and set off in the direction of Mr Ashman in order, apparently, to seek some directions. The hazard warning lights were wholly inadequate warning to the danger your car presented.
“Leaving a stationary vehicle in the fast lane of a motorway is dangerous enough, but to leave it with three people inside it, whose lives were in your hands, is even worse.
“There is one significant aggravating feature, and that is the fact that your driving caused the death of not one, but two people. The mitigation is the close personal relationship you had, not only with your partner, but also with Mrs Jones.
“I have read the letter from Christine Evans’s family, written by Susan Evans, and it is to their credit that they bear you no animosity.”
Judge Potter said he had considered whether, after giving Davies credit for his pleas, he could reduce the sentence further and then suspend it, but added: “I am afraid to say that, in the context of this case, the sentence must stand, and that it must be immediate.”