Lorry driver who fell asleep at wheel and caused fatal A9 crash is jailed

Police attend the scene of the fatal accident on the A9 near Dunkeld. Picture: Reuters
Police attend the scene of the fatal accident on the A9 near Dunkeld. Picture: Reuters
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A LORRY driver has been jailed for three and a half years for falling asleep at the wheel and causing the death of a fellow trucker in an early-morning crash on the A9 in Perthshire.

A judge said the case was a warning of the “predictable” devastating consequences of driving while too tired.

Lord Bracadale heard that David MacDonald, 25, had failed to take sufficient rest breaks, hoping to impress his bosses by completing a journey during the ravages of the 2010 winter.

The judge told him: “All drivers must take care not to drive when they are too tired. For commercial drivers like you, the regulations about rest periods are laid down with the specific purpose of preventing such catastrophic occurrences.”

MacDonald, of Strathspey Avenue, Aviemore, who lost a leg in the accident, admitted causing the death of Gordon Cooper, 57, of India Street, Montrose, Angus, by dangerous driving on 23 December, 2010. The crash occurred in darkness about 5:15am on a single carriageway stretch of the road between Dunkeld and Ballinluig. There had been heavy snow earlier but the road had been gritted. The weather was fair but very cold, around -8 degrees C.

MacDonald, a father of two, had delivered a tanker of syrup to a distillery in Ayrshire, and two friends, Luke McLean, 19, and Anthony Macklin, 19, had gone on the trip with him. He was driving north and Mr Cooper was heading south.

“In the moments before the collision, Luke McLean recalls that their lorry very slowly began to drift across on to the opposite side of the road. He turned to the accused who had his two hands on the wheeel and appeared to be awake,” said the advocate-depute, Stephen O’Rourke.

“He shouted ‘Sumo’ twice - the accused’s nickname - but the accused didn’t react. He then screamed ‘Sumo’ very loudly but by this time Luke McLean realised they were across the carriageway and about to collide with the lorry coming south.

“At that third shout, the accused did react, pulling the steering wheel around to the left which brought the driver’s side of the accused’s lorry directly into the point of impact.”

Mr Cooper was declared dead at the scene from head injuries. MacDonald was thrown from his cab and suffered “the traumatic detachment” of his right leg below the knee. His two passengers had only minor injuries.

A third lorry crashed into the wreckage but its driver was unhurt. The road was closed for more than 12 hours.

Mr O’Rourke added: “The collision happened because the accused appears to have fallen asleep at the wheel, having failed to have regard to the statutory periods of rest set down for HGV drivers.”

The defence counsel, Barry Smith, said MacDonald had explained that the winter of 2010 was particularly bad and made transport very difficult. He had been put under no pressure by his employer, but was “trying to get the job done and trying to make a good impression.”

Mr Smith added: “He recognises the folly of that position now. He has great difficulty in coping with the knowledge he was responsible for Mr Cooper’s death.”

Lord Bracadale said it was clear Mr Cooper’s death had a profound effect on his wife and children, and no sentence could bring him back or begin to compensate the family for their loss.

He told MacDonald: “You embarked on a long return journey...without taking adequate rest periods. The predictable result was you fell asleep at the wheel with devastating consequences. I accept you have shown remorse and are carrying a considerable burden in respect of what happened.”

The judge said the sentence would have been four years and nine months but would be discounted because MacDonald pleaded guilty. He also imposed a seven-year driving ban.