AN inexperienced teenage driver lost control of an unroadworthy 4x4 vehicle, throwing a passenger to his death, before “cowardly” fleeing the scene on foot.

Dylan Brunton, then aged 17, who had not even had a driving lesson, bought the Daihatsu Terios Tracker, with no valid MOT, for £100 the previous day.

Carrying three passengers, he took it for a drive round a disused quarry site, on June 18, last year, but drew the attention of an off-duty police officer who saw it swaying and weaving along the road, not bearing a rear registration plate.

The officer stopped the car and spoke to Brunton, who assured him it was “legitimate”, and that he would replace the missing plate.

Durham Crown Court was told the officer briefly lost sight of the vehicle, but a short time later came across the collision scene, with the Daihatsu straddling a fence post, on a right-hand bend outside Low Barcusclose Farm, on the A692 Crookgate Bank, near Tanfield Village.

Emma Atkinson, prosecuting, said rear-seat passenger Andrew Rowlands had been ejected from the car, as it flipped, and was found lying unconscious on the road, while three other occupants fled the scene.

The Northern Echo: Rear-seat passenger Andrew Rowlands thrown to death from unroadworthy vehicleRear-seat passenger Andrew Rowlands thrown to death from unroadworthy vehicle

Miss Atkinson said other passers-by stopped at the scene until emergency services arrived to take Mr Rowlands to hospital.

She said, “despite extensive medical and surgical intervention”, the 18-year-old from Consett was declared dead later that day, having suffered a fractured skull and multiple other serious injuries.

Judge James Adkin said victim impact statements from Mr Rowlands’ parents and sister, made, “exceptionally difficult reading”, but felt it would be unfair to them to read out, “such raw material.”

Miss Atkinson said Brunton and a male passenger were detained as they fled across a field, while a female passenger walked away to nearby Tanfield, where she rang for a lift.

The court was told all three attended hospital, but none suffered serious injury.

Miss Atkinson said inspection of the vehicle revealed a number of major defects, two classed as “dangerous”, that would have failed an MOT and which would have made it difficult to keep under control.

Brunton, of Dene View, East Stanley, denied causing death by careless driving, but was convicted at a recent youth court trial.

The Northern Echo: Dylan BruntonDylan Brunton

He admitted other charges of failing to stop after an accident, no insurance and no licence.

The now 18-year-old defendant was sent to the crown court for sentence.

David Lamb, mitigating, spoke of Brunton’s “deep remorse”, adding: “It’s clear this defendant deeply wishes he could turn the clock back to June 17 last year, the day on which he purchased the vehicle in question, which he was to drive the following day, on which Andrew was killed.”

Mr Lamb also read a letter to the Rowlands’ family expressing that he was, “deeply sorry”, and that he would, “never forgive himself.”

Judge Adkin said: “The vehicle was in a dreadful condition and clearly not roadworthy.

“It was manifestly dangerous driving as it was obvious to anyone it was a death-trap.”

He said following the accident, Brunton took the, “cowardly decision to run off, more concerned with escaping responsibility for what happened.”

Imposing a 32-month sentence in a young offenders’ institution, he told Brunton, a roofer, that he considered himself, “above the law” for driving such a vehicle without having passed a test or even having had a driving lesson.

He was also banned from the road for three years and four months.

Sergeant Catherine Iley, of Durham Police’s fatal collision investigation team, said: “This tragic case, which resulted in Andrew Rowlands losing his life, highlights the dangers of using and driving vehicles which are not roadworthy.

The Northern Echo:

“The vehicle driven by Brunton had a number of safety critical faults making it a danger to both the occupants and other road users.

“We would like to remind all drivers that it is their responsibility to check and maintain the vehicles they drive as a failure to do so would leave them liable to prosecution or, as in this case, result in a tragic loss of life.

“The majority of road traffic collisions are preventable and keeping a vehicle maintained goes some way towards reducing risk and maintaining the safety of other road users.

“Had this vehicle been maintained, the loss of Andrew’s life may well have been prevented.”