A LEARNER driver who caused an accident so devastating that rescuers initially thought a bomb had gone off has been jailed for four-and-a-half years for causing the death of his friend.
Ashley Lawson, 23, had failed his theory test and had not driven for 18 months prior to the crash on March 31, which killed young Morpeth mum Claire Dickman.
Miss Dickman, 24, had been a front-seat passenger in the Vauxhall Astra that Lawson had taken without consent from his aunt Shynette earlier that morning.
Speeding along the A192 Barmoor Bank shortly after 3am, Lawson, also from Morpeth, is believed to have lost control of the vehicle on a tight bend.
He was going at such speed that the car became airborne for 21 metres and travelled a total of 66 metres from the initial impact with the kerb. It overturned and hit the ground nine times.
A doctor who lives in Barmoor Bank was first at the scene. He had heard three loud bangs as the car crashed to the ground, scattering debris, including its front bumper, on his driveway.
He found the vehicle on its roof and went to the aid of Miss Dickman, who had a six-year-old son, but there was nothing he could do to help her.
An ambulance was called at 3.15am, but Miss Dickman’s injuries, which included multiple skull fractures, are believed to have been instantly fatal.
James Adkin, prosecuting at Newcastle Crown Court, said: “The ambulance driver said he thought that a bomb had gone off, such was the extent of the distribution of the wreckage of the motor vehicle and debris.
“It was the worst damage to any motor vehicle he had ever seen in his experience of attending road-traffic collisions. It was completely destroyed.
“There were other witnesses at the scene, one asked the defendant if he had been driving, he said he had. He didn’t know what had happened, he just lost control.”
Lawson admitted to having driven at 65mph on the 40mph road, which had a 30mph advisory speed limit at the bend where it is believed he lost control.
The court heard how Lawson had drunk six pints of lager on the evening prior to the incident.
His aunt said he had told her he was “mortal” and had said he had been so drunk he had been unable to make himself a sandwich just over two hours before the crash.
Lawson, of Second Avenue, took his aunt’s car shortly after she had gone to bed. She rushed outside but was unable to stop him from driving off without the lights on.
He was not breathalysed at the scene, but a blood test back calculation carried out the following morning showed he was likely to have been just short of the legal limit when the crash happened.
Lawson had previously pleaded guilty to causing death by dangerous driving, aggravated vehicle taking, driving without insurance and driving not in accordance with a licence.
In a statement read to the court by Lawson’s counsel Tony Cornberg, he said: “I am devastated that I have taken a life. I don’t know what it would be like if roles were reversed.
“I feel like it should have been me that died. I would swap places with her if I could.”
Mr Cornberg said: “He’s not the same person he used to be. He feels the guilt of taking a parent away when his children still have theirs.
“This is not just saying sorry, this is real remorse.”
Jailing Lawson, Judge David Wood told him: “It was a dreadful, irresponsible and reckless piece of driving that was quite unnecessary.
“No sentence I pass can bring back the life of Claire Dickman or bring much comfort to her family. She too was the mother of a young child and the effects of this case I am sure will be with them forever.”
Lawson was also disqualified from driving for ten years and must sit an extended driving test if he wants to drive again.
A spokesperson for the Dickman family said: “The whole family miss Claire very much. She was a loving daughter, a caring mother and a cherished friend.
“Claire was a young woman who loved life and lived it to the full, she always had a smile on her face and was one in a million.
“After today we, as a family, want to move on with our lives and make sure that Claire’s son James grows up knowing what a wonderful mum he had and just how much she loved him.
“We will miss Claire so, so much but her memory will live on and she will always be remembered for the amazing person she was. The devastating part of this incident is that it came from an act of stupidity.”