A 20-YEAR-OLD lorry driver who crashed through the central reservation of the M65 after falling asleep at the wheel while five times over the drug-drive limit for cocaine has been jailed for 22 weeks.
Preston Crown Court heard motorists on the opposite side of the carriageway, including one with four children in her car, had to swerve onto the hard shoulder to avoid the 40ft heavy goods vehicle being driven by Jake Ian Murray.
Recorder Jeremy Lasker said Murray was fortunate nobody was killed in the incident on the two-laned westbound carriageway near junction six at around 9am on December 22.
Prosecuting, David Clarke said PC Simon Grounds had responded to reports a heavy goods vehicle had gone through the central barrier and onto the other side of the carriageway. But when he arrived he saw the Hayton Coulthard lorry had gone back onto the westbound carriageway and down an embankment.
Murray was getting out of the driver’s side of the cab when PC Murray arrived at the vehicle, although the officer described him as being “dazed and unsteady”.
Murray was breathalysed and although that proved negative, a drugs swipe showed he was five times the limit for cocaine. Mr Clarke said a blood test also showed the defendant was 16 times the limit for benzoylecgonine - a metabolite of cocaine.
Murray was arrested and taken to hospital and a number of other drivers had stopped at the scene to give witness statements, including three people who were all driving on the eastbound carriageway when the lorry veered over.
One of those was Zoe Hughes, who was travelling with her 17-year-old son in the front passenger seat and three daughters in the back.
Mr Clarke said: “She first became aware of the vehicle when it was around 10 bus lengths away from her. She realised something wasn’t right. She took evasive action, leaving lane one and going onto the hard shoulder. In her view the vehicle didn’t slow down at all and went past her at between 60mph and 70mph.
“Another motorist, Nathan Parkinson, said the HGV travelled in his outside lane. He noticed it from 100 metres away. He hit his own brakes to slow down from 70mph to between 40mph and 50mph. He took the decision to swerve violently to his left onto the hard shoulder. He described how he had never been so frightened in his life.”
Murray, who had no previous convictions, pleaded guilty to dangerous driving and two counts of drug-driving.
Defending, Ged Doran said it was an unusual case, given that a 20-year-old man had been able to legally drive a HGV. He asked the court to bear in mind the defendant’s age, his lack of previous convictions and the fact a jail sentence would impact on his client’s future job prospects.
Mr Doran said: “Nobody, including the defendant, was injured. It is right to acknowledge that was more luck than judgement on the defendant’s part. Bearing in mind all those factors I would urge your honour to give consideration to an alternative option than immediate custody.”
Jailing Murray, Recorder Lasker said: “In December last year, despite your young age, you were working as a professional heavy goods vehicle driver.
“You had, it seems, come from Barrow earlier and gone to Burnley. You had unloaded in Burnley but at this time you were leaving Lancashire and heading back up north.
“We know from the tests that were later carried out that as you set off you had in your system a quantity of cocaine. I am told it was some five times the legal limit and you also had in your system some benzoylecgonine that was something like 16 times the legal limit.
“The fact is you fell asleep at the wheel. I have watched the dashcam footage from your vehicle. You veered first to the left, almost touching the barrier on the left hand side.You then veer slowly to the central reservation, crashing through, where you then travel at some speed on the wrong side of the carriageway. Ultimately your vehicle came back onto the right side of the road, coming to a stop down the embankment.”
He continued: “This was a Saturday, around 9am, and the traffic was mercifully light, otherwise what was a serious incident could have been a major incident involving the loss of life. You missed the pillars of a bridge by a matter of centimetres. You could have hit any vehicle on the opposite carriageway.” Murray, of Lockerbie, was banned from driving for 20 months.