A TEENAGE motorist was exchanging text messages less than half-a-minute before she was involved in a fatal crash, a court heard.

Katie Foster was at the wheel of a Volkswagen Polo which hit a Peugeot 206 travelling in the opposite direction, on the A688 bypass, near West Auckland, on the night of Monday March 21 last year.

As a result of the crash, the Peugeot overturned causing the death of its driver, 36-year-old Lee Cain.

Mr Cain, of West Cornforth, County Durham, worked with his younger brother Bradley for their father’s tyre-fitting business, in Spennymoor.

Foster, who was 18 at the time, was treated in hospital for back and neck injuries, but her three passengers were said to have escaped unhurt.

The now 19-year-old defendant, of Carisbrooke Crescent, Etherley Dene, Bishop Auckland, denied a charge of causing Mr Cain’s death by dangerous driving, at a previous hearing.

The case was adjourned for a trial, which was due to start at Durham Crown Court this week.

But, after deliberations between lawyers on both sides on what was to have been the opening morning of the trial, prosecuting counsel Ian Mullarkey asked to add a further count of causing death by careless driving.

Foster pleaded guilty, but the court heard it was on a basis relating to agreed facts regarding the manner of her driving prior to the collision.

These included driving too close to the vehicle in front of her, leaving her braking very late, and with insufficient force, before swerving into the opposite carriageway where the collision took place with the oncoming Peugeot.

The court was told she also accepted having sent a text message 25 seconds before the fatal collision, and receiving one nine seconds prior to the accident, while her phone was said to have been beneath her leg.

Mr Mullarkey told the court: “It’s been considered by the Crown, the family of Lee Cain, and the officer in the case, and we are content to accept that plea on that basis.”

James Lake, for Foster, told the court: “She’s 19, has no previous convictions and is in full-time work.”

Requesting preparation of a background report on the defendant by the Probation Service, Mr Lake asked for sentence to be delayed to enable him to gather character references, including one from her employer, to put before the court.

“She came today expecting to be facing trial and wasn’t expecting to be sentenced.

“She’s a young woman who would like to get things sorted before the likelihood of a custodial sentence.”

Speaking to representatives of both family groups in the public gallery, Judge Simon Hickey apologised for the delay in bringing the case to a conclusion, and agreed a date of January 11, when all parties can return to court.

Bailing Foster, Judge Hickey imposed an interim order banning her from driving in the meantime, the full length of which will be set at the sentencing hearing.