Hawick teenager jailed for killing friend in high-speed car crash

Aaron Murphy.
Aaron Murphy.

A teenager has been jailed for 20 months for causing the death of a lifelong friend by driving dangerously.

Aaron Murphy started overtaking a line of traffic in unsafe conditions before his speeding Seat Ibiza mounted a verge, hit a road sign and rolled into a field after he lost control, a court heard on Tuesday.

His front-seat passenger and former schoolmate Dale Whillans was so seriously injured that he died after the crash on a Borders road.

A judge told Murphy at the High Court in Edinburgh: “This is a sad and tragic case for all concerned.”

Lady Sarah Wolffe said she accepted that Murphy was “deeply remorseful” but added: “I am satisfied there is no alternative to a custodial sentence.”

She said she would have jailed him for 30 months for the offence but for his guilty plea.

She banned him from driving for six years.

First-time offender Murphy was 18 at the time of the accident that claimed the life of promising footballer Dale, also 18.

Murphy, now 19, of Target House, Braid Road, Hawick, had earlier admitted causing the death of his friend by driving dangerously on the A698 Hawick-Jedburgh road on April 6 last year.

He drove at excessive speed and crossed onto the other side of the road when it was unsafe, losing control of a vehicle he had only acquired 12 days earlier.

Advocate depute Keith O’Mahony told the court that Murphy had performed an overtaking manoeuvre to pass several vehicles despite it not being safe to do so.

The prosecutor said: “The accused and the deceased were well known to each other. They had the same group of friends and had been schoolmates at both primary and secondary school.”

On the day of the incident they and others had decided to drive in two cars from Hawick to Berwick.

After going through Denholm, they got caught up behind a queue of four vehicles.

They then reached the Timpendean straight, but oncoming traffic initially ruled out overtaking.

However, once the last of the oncoming vehicles had passed, the first of their cars pulled out to overtake the traffic ahead, with Murphy following in his Seat.

Mr O’Mahony said the noise of the vehicles accelerating caught the attention of witnesses, and one guessed that they were travelling at more than 70 mph. He said: “Other witnesses confirm the accused was travelling in excess of the speed limit, with one witness describing his speed as ‘ridiculous’.”

The lead car managed to complete the overtaking manoeuvre, but Murphy’s vehicle had insufficient time to follow suit.

A couple travelling with young children saw his car come over the crest of a hill towards them and managed to bring their Saab almost to a halt.

Murphy’s car careered off the road and collided with a road sign before hitting a dry-stone wall and rolling into a ploughed field near Timpendean Cottages.

The advocate depute said: “The vehicle came to rest the right way up. The impact caused extensive damage to the entire vehicle.”

Murphy and another passenger, Lee Sanderson, were able to get out of the car, but Dale, of Longcroft Road, Hawick, was unconscious and remained in the front passenger seat.

An off-duty surgeon and paramedic tried to give first aid to him and got him out of the vehicle.

He was taken to Borders General Hospital in Melrose before being flown by helicopter to Edinburgh, but he did not survive his injuries, dying from head wounds.

Police investigators came to the conclusion that the Seat had been travelling at excess speed immediately before the collision.

They said that a rise followed by a dip in the road where the overtaking took place was sufficient to obscure vehicles from one another as they travelled in opposite directions, but they maintained that there was adequate warning of the hazard.

Lady Wolffe told Murphy that she had taken into account a victim impact statement made by Dale’s mother.

The judge said: “She explains the impact of this heartbreaking and abiding loss she has suffered in the loss of her only son as a consequence of your actions that day.

“With great dignity she expresses the view that a long jail sentence will not restore her son to her.”

Lady Wolffe said the case was “eloquent of the dangers posed by young, inexperienced drivers driving at excessive speed and being reckless as to the consequences”.

She added: “By your actions, you posed serious risks to other road users.

“Your front-seat passenger, who was a good friend, has lost his life. You will have to carry the burden of what you have done.

“Your friend has lost his life, and his family will bear that loss for their lives too.”