Text-messaging driver jailed for fatal lorry crash

A lorry driver is thought to have been reading or writing a text at the wheel as he lost control of his 19-tonne HGV which toppled over and crushed a married couple on their way for a holiday.

Tamsie and Mark McHale were heading to Manchester airport when they were killed by driver Ethen Roberts, 44, on the M62 near Huddersfield last July.

A court heard Roberts may have been distracted by a text when he swerved into the couple’s lane, ultimately causing his Mercedes lorry to jack-knife on to their Audi.

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Hair salon boss Mark, 46 and his “brilliant” deputy head teacher wife Tamsie, 43, were described in court as “meant for each other” by one heartbroken friend.

The couple died at the scene of the crash which closed the westbound carriageway of the M62 for almost 12 hours.

Experienced driver Roberts, of Ings Lane, Immingham, was jailed for five years and three months yesterday after pleading guilty to two counts of causing death by dangerous driving.

After his arrest he claimed he could not remember if he had read or deleted a text received from a close friend just over a minute before the incident on the morning of July 25.

Examination of Roberts’s phone records over a period of three days before the horrific crash showed he had received more than 58 texts from his friend, Helen Chapman.

When the tachograph in the vehicle was studied it showed all were received while he was driving.

He had replied to 48 of these messages.

Richard Clews, prosecuting, said; “It was clear the defendant was in the habit of both reading and composing text messages whilst driving and had done so frequently on the day of the collision.

In all probability the defendant was either reading the message from Helen Chapman or had read it and was in the process of making a reply.”

The McHales had been driving from their home in Bishop Auckland in county Durham to Manchester airport to catch a flight to Cuba to celebrate their wedding anniversary when the tragedy occurred shortly before 6am.

Leeds Crown Court heard the incident happened near to a junction with the M606, where there were narrow lanes because of roadworks and a 50mph limit.

Roberts, who has 13 years experience as an HGV driver, was en-route from Grimsby to Burnley, in Lancashire, and was seen to swerve slightly into the outside lane and collide with the Audi. The court heard he then tried to slow and the lorry toppled over.

After the incident Roberts, who suffered minor injuries, denied responsibility for the crash.

Judge Geoffrey Marson, QC, said: “You had a regular habit of reading, composing and sending text messages while driving.

“If ever a case demonstrates the obvious dangers of that, this it is it.

“The danger of doing that was obvious and it created a grossly avoidable distraction.

“You received a text message very shortly before the collision and you were either reading it or composing a reply when you lost control of your lorry.”

Judge Marson described Mr McHale as “an active, a businessman who has his own hair salon” while Tamsie had overcome disability and become a “brilliant teacher”.

In a statement, a close friend of the couple, who had been married for 10 years, said: “Tamsie meeting Mark was like two lost souls coming together, they were just made for each other.”

The friend added: “This is a loss I cannot accept and a great sadness I carry with me every day.”

In a statement Mark’s mother described him as a “workaholic” who gave money to charity every year.

Peter Horgan, mitigating, told the court his client was truly remorseful for his involvement in the deaths.

He said he did use a mobile phone in his cab with a Bluetooth device and “did accept on occasion he did make and send texts”.

Mr Horgan added that on his release his client will not be returning to driving.

Roberts was also made subject of a five-year driving ban.