A Scottish truck driver has been jailed for eight years and ten months after killing three people in a 58 mph ‘fireball control’ while trawling an adult scene on his phone.
Romanian-born Ion Onut, 41, who lives in Galashiels, was looking for casual sex with strangers on the app ‘Shag Today’ and another called ‘Mystic Match’.
The truck became one fireball ‘on the collision as it pushed the first vehicle 100m down the highway at Bowburn, Co. Durham, July 15 last year.
David Daglish, 57, and his partner Elaine Sullivan, 59, of Seaham, Co Durham were killed instantly.
Devoted father Paul Mullen, 51, of Washington, Tyne and Wear, also lost his life in the massacre. Three others suffered serious injuries and mental trauma.
Onut, 41, admitted three counts of causing death by dangerous driving after Durham Crown Court heard he had been using his phone all day while in his cab.
Judge James Adkin jailed him and told him: “You trawled the internet on a dating site looking for random sexual partners and it was your concern that you could not see the traffic slowly and stop in front of you.
“Your vehicle, which weighed about three and a half tons, plowed into stagnant 58 km / h lines. The consequences were catastrophic. I have seen dashcam footage showing an instant explosion while your track hit the vehicle in front. that.
“Your truck then drove out of control for 100m and destroyed everything in its path. You surfed the internet for 40 minutes, preoccupied with forming casual sexual relationships, while driving along the highway at more than 50km / h in a heavily loaded large lorry.”
Prosecutor Nick Dry recounted how drivers noticed Onut swerved across the road despite danger signs caused by a crane that had spilled some fuel on the hard shoulder.
A motorist thought he had fallen asleep when the truck first drove up on the hard shoulder, then over the first lane of the roadway, then close to the central reserve.
In fact, he displayed a ‘flagrant disregard’ for traffic rules while driving while seeking casual sex on his phone. “A driver was worried because the driving was so erratic,” Mr Dry said.
“There was a chain reaction of vehicles crashing into each other and a fireball. The accused was dragged from his vehicle by a driver and said he had not had the opportunity to stop.
“It was found that three motorists had died. The collision had been at a time when visibility was good and the position of the sun was not difficult.
“The defendant’s lack of attention meant that he was completely unaware of the stationery traffic, which he went into at 58 km / h … before the truck burst into flames.”
An examination of Onut’s mobile phone showed that he had used it ‘extended all day’ while driving from the north up the A1 from the south.
Sir. Dry added: “The story showed that the defendant had used the adult dating sites ‘Shag Today’ and another called ‘Mystic Match’.
“He had been driving at speeds over 50km / h while using the Shag Today site. He had 2,500 credits for £ 49.95 and had sent messages and replies.
“He had physically used the phone to pay for credit and sent messages as well as edited his profile.
“He showed blatant disregard for traffic rules and the serious dangers to others.”
He had missed clear warnings to slow down and slow down, the court heard.
Records showed that he had registered with Shag Today on July 11 and with Mystic Match at. 15.19 on the day of the collision.
The phone was’ in constant use ” from kl. 17.48 to kl. 18.17, the point of impact.
“He had been on both sides for views, searches and selections, which required him to interact with the handset while driving a large good vehicle on the A1M,” Mr Dry added.
“The last activity was at 6.17pm and six seconds, which was at the time of the collision with Elaine Sullivan’s and David Daglish’s vehicle.”
In a poignant statement about sacrifice, their soldier son Junior Sullivan, who served in the military in Afghanistan, said his world had ‘changed forever’ when he told the devastating news of the loss of his devoted, loving parents.
He felt “unbearable rage at the sight of other motorists using their mobile phones”. He added: “There are no words for the pain and suffering this has caused.
“Nothing prepares you to be woken up at 5.30am by your pregnant wife of seven and a half months to be told that your mother and father have been killed in a car accident.
“My perfect life and the world suddenly no longer existed.” Survivor Lauren Cawton saw Onut’s truck rushing towards her vehicle and ‘had to accept that I was going to die’.
Her devastating injuries mean she can no longer do the things she loved, such as mountain biking and surfing.
On 24-hour pain relief, she wonders if she will ever enjoy life again. Richard Bloomfield, mitigating, said Onut pleaded guilty at an early occasion and was of formerly good character.
Judge Adkin said the verdict should reflect the severe punishment for motorists using cell phones, which caused death and serious injury.
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After the case, Sgt Catherine Iley of Durham Police said: “This was a really shocking incident and our thoughts remain with Elaine, David’s and Paul’s family and friends.
“They have shown great dignity throughout and have helped where they can, while trying to come to terms with the loss of their loved ones in such devastating circumstances.
“It was incredibly disturbing for those who witnessed the collision, and for emergency personnel, including police officers, firefighters and paramedics. The horror of what they witnessed that day will no doubt remain with them for many years to come.”
Officers thanked members of the public, Highways England, and soldiers from the 4th Regiment Royal Artillery based in North Yorkshire, who assisted on the spot.
Sgt Illey added: “This case serves as a terrible warning of what can happen when drivers use a mobile phone or device while sitting behind the wheel of a vehicle. In short, do not use one.”