Lorry driver who caused A1(M) horror smash which killed three people had been looking at sex sites on his mobile phone
WARNING – VIDEO CONTAINS DISTRESSING CONTENT: A lorry driver who caused a horror smash which killed three people while he looked at sex sites on his phone has been jailed.
Romanian Ion Nica Onut, 41, was travelling north on the A1(M) in County Durham when he failed to break sufficiently as he searched for "casual sexual partners" online.
Durham Crown Court heard he was constantly using his phone at the time of the multi-vehicle smash on July 15 and accessed sites including "**** Today" and "Mystic Match".
Harrowing footage shows his lorry veer off the road sparking a huge fireball which killed Paul Mullen, 51, and couple Elaine Sullivan, 59, and David Daglish, 57, instantly.
The court was told that the traffic on the road was slow with up to 20-minute delays due to a fluid spillage near Junction 61, with warning signs and 50mphlimits in place.
Onut had started his journey from the south and had taken regular breaks but as he approached the stretch of road he failed to acknowledge the warnings.
Prosecutor Nicholas Dry said: "Those warnings were heeded by other motorists.
"On the road at that time travelling behind the defendant was a man who had become concerned in the manner of which the LGV was being driven - crossing the lane on the hard shoulder before then swerving onto the carriageway."
Mr Dry told the court that due to the erratic nature of Onut's driving, the motorist behind believed he may have been falling asleep.
However, he continued forward without slowing down before colliding into the back of queuing traffic, causing a blaze and a chain of subsequent collisions.
Onut was pulled out of his vehicle which ended up 100m away from the initial crash where he was heard to say that the traffic had "slowed suddenly in front of him and he had no chance to stop."
Mr Dry added: "Tragically, three motorists were found to have died at the scene, Elaine Sullivan and David Daglish in a Vauxhall Crossland and Paul Mullen in the Toyota Hilux.
"The cause of the collision was investigated by specialist police at the time who had access to witness accounts and evidence from the scene.
"It was caused by the defendant's failure to pay attention to the road ahead.
"He was utterly oblivious to the stationary traffic until upon it and smashed into the Vauxhall Crossway at 58mph.
"An examination of his mobile telephone also revealed it had been used extensively by the defendant as he travelled throughout the day.
"From 5:39pm up until the point of collision at 6:17pm the telephone was seen to have been in constant use.
"The history showed the defendant had been accessing two adult dating sites, '**** Today' and 'Mystic Match'.
"He did so whilst driving at speed which never went below 50mph.
Onut, of Woodstock Avenue in Galashiels, pleaded guilty to three counts of causing death by dangerous driving.
The court heard as well as the three deaths, two separate women, one of who was pregnant, suffered serious injuries but survived.
In a victim impact statement, Junior Sullivan, son of Ms Sullivan and step-son of Mr Daglish, said that none of the difficult experiences faced in his 12 year military career could prepare him for losing his parents.
He said: "There are simply no words or actions that can do justice to the pain and suffering.
"In that very moment my world shattered. I couldn't speak, couldn't think, I couldn't move.
"The fact that they never got the chance to see their beautiful granddaughter who they were so looking forward to meeting.
"They never got the chance to hear the words grandad or nanny. What about traditions like Christmas we spend together, they become a reminder that theyare no longer here."
She added: "My mum said to me she knows over time together with me and my sister we will get through this.
"It's hard to put into words how much we miss our dad.
"We looked up to him. He was the hardest working man I ever will know.
"He would cuddle us every time he saw us and tell us he loved us every time we spoke."
Richard Bloomfield, mitigating, told the court Onut admitted the offences at the earliest possible opportunity and was previously of good character with noconvictions.
Judge James Adkin jailed him for eight years and ten months, and told him: "You were not asleep at the wheel, but trawling the internet on dating sites lookingfor casual sexual partners.
"You had been seen driving erratically prior to the crash.
"You simply ploughed into stationary traffic at 58mph. Needless to say the consequences were catastrophic."
Onut was also banned from driving for 14 years and five years and must pass an extended re-test.
Footage of the fatal crash was released by Durham Constabulary after the hearing and the force’s Sergeant Catherine Iley said: “This was a truly harrowing incident for everyone involved and our thoughts remain with the family and friends of Elaine, David, and Paul.
“They have shown great dignity throughout the course of this investigation and have assisted wherever they can, all while trying to come to terms with the loss of their loved ones in such devastating circumstances.
“It was incredibly distressing and upsetting for those who witnessed the collision, and for the emergency responders, including police officers, firefighters and paramedics, who attended the scene. The horror of what they witnessed that day will no doubt remain with them for many years to come.
“Our sincere thanks must go to everyone who helped at the scene. This also includes members of the public, Highways England, and soldiers from the 4th Regiment Royal Artillery based in North Yorkshire who assisted at the scene after being caught up in the resulting traffic jam.
“Mr Onut has admitted his guilt and pleaded guilty at the first available opportunity and while he has shown remorse for his actions, no amount of remorse will bring Elaine, David, and Paul back.
“This case serves as a dreadful warning of what can happen when drivers use a mobile phone or device whilst behind the wheel of a vehicle – irrespective of the purpose of that use, they are a distraction and as shown in this case, that distraction could have devastating and wide reaching consequences. Simply put, don’t use one.”