Lorry driver who caused deaths of Bishop Auckland couple lost control while texting (From The Northern Echo)
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Lorry driver who caused deaths of Bishop Auckland couple lost control while texting
A NORTH-East couple died in a horrific motorway pile-up because the driver of a lorry which crushed their car was either reading or writing a text message when he lost control.
Mark McHale, 46, and his wife Tamsie, 43, from Bishop Auckland, County Durham, were killed on the M62 as they headed to Manchester Airport to fly to Cuba to celebrate their wedding anniversary.
Leeds Crown Court heard yesterday how HGV driver Ethen Roberts had sent and received dozens of text messages while he was driving.
On the day of the tragedy, Roberts, 44, moved his truck into the middle lane to overtake another vehicle in an area near the junction with the M606 at Chain Bar, which was limited to 50mph because of narrow lanes and roadworks.
As the road ahead started to rise his HGV, with a 19 ton load, slowed and cars on the inside began catching up with him, one of which was driven by Mr McHale.
CRUSHED: The Audi after the crash near Junction 26 of the M62
Richard Clews, prosecuting, said the lorry was seen to veer into the McHales' car, pushing it in front of his lorry before it was then propelled into the third lane, facing the wrong way.
The lorry swerved to the right, then the left before it jack-knifed and fell on top of the McHales' Audi, killing the couple inside.
At first, Roberts tried to blame Mr McHale for the crash and an initial examination of his phone showed no messages at the time of the incident.
However, later checks revealed that someone had deleted a text message, sent one minute 16 seconds before the collision.
Records also highlighted how Roberts had received 58 text messages from a good friend, Helen Chapman, during the previous three days - all while his tachograph showed he was driving at the same time.
The court heard he had sent 48 messages to her in return.
JAILED: Lorry driver Ethen Roberts
Mr Clews said: “It is clear he was in the habit of both reading and composing text messages while driving and had done so frequently on the day of the collision.
“In all probability the defendant was either reading the message from Helen Chapman or had read it and was in the process of making a reply.
“There is no other reason for deleting it otherwise.”
Roberts, of Ings Lane, Immingham admitted two charges of causing the deaths of Mr and Mrs McHale by dangerous driving on July 25 last year.
He was jailed for five years and three months and disqualified from driving for five years.
Sentencing, Judge Geoffrey Marson QC said: “Those who drive HGVs owe a particular responsibility to other road users because of the nature of the vehicle they drive and because the results of dangerous driving can be catastrophic.
“Evidence clearly shows you had a regular habit of reading and composing and sending text messages while driving.
“If ever a case demonstrated the obvious danger of that, this is it and the danger in doing that was obvious. It created a grossly avoidable distraction.
“You received a text message very shortly before the collision and you were either reading it or composing a reply when you lost control of your lorry.”
The judge said he accepted Roberts had not set out that day to kill or injure anybody and that his remorse was genuine, but it was a seriously aggravating feature that he was in the habit of texting while driving.
He said no sentence was intended to mark the value of a life. Mr McHale was a businessman running his own hair salon while his wife had overcome difficulties as a child to become an inspirational deputy head teacher.
“They were on their way, no doubt, to a well earned holiday.”
The court heard Roberts was driving from Grimsby to Burnley when the accident happened shortly before 6am.
After the collision, he was found by witnesses bleeding in the cab of his vehicle and on the phone to his boss.
Peter Horgan, for Roberts, told the court he had been driving HGVs for 13 years doing an average 30,000 miles a year without a problem.
“He accepts on occasions he did make and send text messages.”
He said Roberts deeply regretted what had happened and would never again drive a HGV.
Mr McHale established the Hair Haus salon, in Bishop Auckland town centre, in 2001. His wife was deputy head teacher at Durham Gilsegate Primary School.
They had planned the holiday in Cuba to celebrate their 11th wedding anniversary and have been described by friends as a lovely couple who were made for each other.
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