Learner driver admits causing friend’s death in high-speed crash

A LEARNER driver who volunteered to drive his drunk friend and his brother home after a night out faces a jail sentence after he admitted crashing the car at more than twice the speed limit and causing the death of one of them in Lerwick last year.

Ross Sutherland, 20, was over the alcohol limit himself when he accelerated Ian Sandison’s Vauxhall Vectra to between 62 and 76mph, drove the wrong way round the roundabout at South Lochside and up the wrong side of South Road before veering across the road, hitting the kerb and slamming into a wall.

Mr Sandison, 18, a mechanic, who had been sitting in the back seat without wearing a seatbelt, died from a massive head injury after being thrown forwards into the rear-view mirror.

Sutherland was found unconscious with his head on the car’s airbag and required knee surgery while Ian Sandison’s brother Magnus escaped with minor injuries.

At the High Court in Edinburgh on Tuesday Sutherland admitted causing Ian Sandison’s death by driving dangerously, at “grossly excessive speed” and while over the alcohol limit in the early hours of 4th November last year.

Advocate depute David Young, prosecuting, told the court that Mr Sandison may well have survived the crash had he been wearing a seatbelt. “It is highly likely that he would have sustained only minor injuries had he been wearing a seatbelt,” he said.

Defence advocate Louis Moll told the court that Sutherland accepted full responsibility. Mr Moll said: “It goes without saying this was a tragic and avoidable death. All I can say at this stage on behalf of Ross Sutherland is that he is devastated his action resulted in the death of his friend. He wants his family to know how sorry he is for what he has done and he takes full responsibility for what transpired.”

The court heard that the three men, who all lived in Bigton, had spent a Saturday trying to repair a broken car before heading for Lerwick in the evening.

Mr Young said they spent the next three hours or so drinking beer, sprits and alcopops. As the evening wore on the three met up with other friends and became separated.

About midnight, Magnus Sandison found his brother in another pub and noticed he was so drunk he had been sick. They headed for a taxi rank, intending to go home, but there were no available taxis.

Ian Sandison said he would drive the 20 miles home. Magnus said he would drive because he was less drunk. Ian gave him the keys, then took them back.

Mr Young said that as they argued, Sutherland arrived and said he would drive – even though he only had a provisional licence.

The court heard that Sutherland’s driving was “unremarkable” until they got to South Lochside.

“At this point he accelerated extremely rapidly until he was travelling along this road at speeds estimated by a pedestrian to be between 70mph and 90mph,” Mr Young said.

Police accident experts later said the speed when Sutherland crashed was probably between 62mph and 76mph in a 30mph zone.

Sutherland was found to have an alcohol level of 107mgs in 100ml of blood – the limit is 80mgs.

Magnus Sandison was said to be “uncomfortable” but his brother said to Sutherland: “I like your driving … Don’t worry. I don’t mind if you write off the car.”

The court heard that Sutherland went round the roundabout in the wrong direction, drove on the wrong side of the road down South Road, veered back across the road and hit the kerb.

“At this point the accused lost all control of the car,” Mr Young said. The Vauxhall Vectra crossed the road twice, mounted the pavement and slammed, head on, into a stone wall.

“The impact of the collision was such that the deceased was catapulted into the front of the car, striking his head on the interior mirror which caused a fatal injury,” Mr Young said.

Witnesses found Ian Sandison “barely clinging to life”. Sutherland later told police he remembered nothing between getting into the driver’s seat of the Vectra and sitting in a police car at the crash site. He also confirmed he was a provisional licence holder who had never had any formal training.

Judge Lord Menzies called for background reports and allowed Sutherland, whose address was given in court papers as c/o a solicitors’ office in Aberdeen, to remain on bail pending sentence next month.
The judge ordered Sutherland not to drive meantime and warned him a jail sentence was likely.


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