A TEENAGER whose dangerous driving killed one young friend and left another badly injured following a horror smash near Carlisle has been jailed for almost three years.
Eighteen-year-old James Stephenson Cooper passed his test only 15 days before losing control of his newly-acquired Volkswagen Polo as he flew over a hump-back bridge near Rockcliffe at 82mph just after 5pm on September 22 last year.
As he motored towards the bridge on a damp road, passing clear warning signs – one advising of a 30mph restriction – Cooper had flippantly asked three young passengers “do you want some air time?”, Carlisle Crown Court heard today (WED).
One horrified eyewitness saw the car two feet off the ground with all tyres airborne before it lost control and hit concrete posts and trees, rolling in a field and suffering massive impact damage within a “scene of devastation”.
Rear seat passenger Gavin Helps, who was 17 and from Carlisle, was trapped inside the vehicle having suffered unsurvivable injuries and was pronounced dead at the scene despite timely help from members of the public present. Cooper and two other passengers managed to exit the vehicle but one, Niall Kennedy, was badly hurt and underwent surgery in hospital having suffered fractured vertebrae, ribs and clavicles along with a partially collapsed lung.
The court was told of video footage from the days leading up to the tragedy which showed earlier examples of bad driving by Cooper – including a copycat move at the same bridge – his “stupid” speeds, disregard for limits, and drifting; and witness evidence describing him as a “boy racer”.
In a deeply moving impact statement, Gavin’s mother, Claire Helps, described her son as a “popular lad” who “loved to make people laugh”. “His loss has left an enormous void in all of our lives,” said Mrs Helps. “My whole life has been turned upside down and inside out since that day. How does any parent describe the loss of their precious child? It has devastated our whole family.”
Cooper – 17 at the time of the crash – admitted causing both death and serious injury by dangerous driving. He was sent to a young offenders’ institution for 35 months by Judge Nicholas Barker, who concluded the teen had “used a hump back road bridge as a ramp to take off, driving at grossly excessive speed”.
“Your attitude to driving in the week you had this car is such that you were, in my judgement, a ticking bomb,” Judge Barker told Cooper. “It seems to me that luck was the only thing that was going to intervene to prevent a serious incident occurring. With regret it did not intervene and, as such, there are truly horrific consequences.”
The judge added: “The message must go out to all young drivers that cars have the potential to cause death and great harm.”
Cooper, of Beaver Road, Carlisle, must also serve a four-year driving ban when released, and pass an extended test.