Van driver who killed Team GB triathlete ‘thought crash noise was falling parcel’

A delivery driver who killed a Team GB triathlete when he smashed into her bike during a race thought noise from the crash was a shifting parcel in his van, a court has heard.

Vasile Barbu, 49, is facing jail after being found guilty of killing Rebecca Comins, 52, near Raglan, South Wales in June 2022.

The mother-of-two was taking part in a time trial with warning signs in place when she was sent flying into the air.

Barbu had an empty lane of a dual carriageway he could have used to avoid the collision but instead went straight into the back of her, Cardiff Crown Court heard.

He could not explain the reason for the crash and said he had given Mrs Comins a gap to pass her.

Prosecutor James Wilson said: “He told police he made his manoeuvre to pass and used his hands to indicate to police he made a gliding movement past her.

“He said he then heard a knock, he told police ‘I don’t think I hit her’ but he stopped because he thought a parcel had moved in the back of his fully loaded van.

“He said when he stopped he could not see anything in the back but he saw damage to the headlight then he saw the cyclist on the ground and the damaged bike.”

Competitors set off at one minute intervals along the A40 in the event organised by the Monmouthshire Wheelers.

Another participant told how moments before the fatal collision Barbu passed so close to his bike he was “buzzed” by the white Vauxhall Movano van and the breeze caused him to wobble across the road.

Beckie Comins was taking part in a time trial with a flashing light attached to her bike when she was sent flying near Raglan, South Wales, in June 2022

Beckie Comins was taking part in a time trial with a flashing light attached to her bike when she was sent flying near Raglan, South Wales, in June 2022

Credit: Wales news service

Mr Wilson said: “Rebecca Comins was there to be seen. Visibility was good, she was cycling with a bright rear light so was clearly obvious to other witnesses.

“Her presence on that road was not unexpected. Barbu would have seen the road signs for the cycling event taking place and would have passed other similar cyclists before he reached Mrs Comins.

“She was cycling in a proper manner and correctly positioned on the road. She was on a long, straight stretch of road with plenty of time for him to see her.

“Further he had space in the outside lane to move into and safely manoeuvre around her and to avoid colliding. He instead directly hit Mrs Comins from behind.

“This was not a momentary misjudgment or lack of concentration. From the road and the weather conditions and how conspicuous she would have been, the defendant’s failure to avoid colliding into the back of Mrs Comins was a gross, catastrophic failure which amounted to dangerous driving.

“His dangerous driving caused the death of Mrs Comins.”

Romanian-born Barbu, of Abergavenny, was warned he faced jail at his sentencing hearing on July 5 but was bailed and ordered to surrender his passport.

Rebecca, known as Becky, was the Vintage Veteran Champion of the Welsh Triathlon Super Series at the time of her death and had represented Wales the weekend before the crash.

She was also a member of the Great Britain Age Group Team at the European Championships in Tartu in 2018, as well as at the World Championships in Lausanne in 2019.

After the hearing her family said they were “so proud” of the “inspirational” sportswoman as they thanked police for bringing her killer to justice.

They added: “Beckie was incredibly kind and an inspiration to so many. Her impact on the lives of people throughout the local and sporting community has become especially evident by the abundance of tributes and memories shared since her death.

“She loved her family, friends and sport and was always the first person to offer help and advice.

In a statement, Welsh Triathlon said: “Becky was a fierce competitor, but with it had a positivity and energy that was infectious.

“Becky will be sadly missed by everyone within our triathlon community, and we extend our deepest sympathies to Becky’s family, Steve, George and Millie and her wider friends at this sad time.”

Becky was a member of the Dragon Tri Club, Newport Phoenix Cycling Club and Caldicot Running Club.