Driver who inhaled laughing gas moments before van crash which killed 15-year-old girl in Lancashire jailed
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Cameron Hughes, who was inhaling laughing gas just before a crash which killed Bonny Rae Barrow, was jailed for seven-and-a-half years by a judge at Preston on Monday (October 30).
The 24-year-old had also been sending messages on his mobile phone seconds before his van ploughed through a metal barrier and plunged down a steep ravine, the court heard.
But her distraught family, including mum Sarah Barrow, stormed out of court amid shouts of “it’s a joke” and “it’s definitely not over” when Judge Heather Lloyd passed sentence.
Hughes, 24, who was a close friend of Bonny’s family, was also disqualified from driving for eight years and nine months.
He will need to take a new test before he is allowed back behind the wheel.
Judge Lloyd told him he would have to face the effects of what he had done for the rest of his life, but added: “At least you have the rest of your life.”
The court heard Hughes, who was so close to Bonny that he referred to her as his cousin, was driving erratically along the Accrington Bypass at Huncoat in July when he veered off down a slip-road at high speed.
Dashcam footage in the van captured the incident and showed Hughes inhaling laughing gas (nitrous oxide) several times from a yellow balloon as he drove along the bypass.
He was also using his mobile phone and at times he was seen with no hands on the steering wheel.
As the vehicle travelled down the northbound slip-road approaching the A679 Burnley Road, it was travelling at between 62 and 68 mph – far too fast to safely negotiate a tight left-hand bend and stop just before a roundabout at the bottom.
Neither the driver nor Bonny were wearing a seatbelt, something experts felt might have saved Bonny’s life.
At the scene a witness said she saw a young man in shock, saying the young girl was his cousin and saying repeatedly “I lost control, I lost control.”
Bonny, who had just completed her mock GCSE exams, was taken to the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital, but was later transferred to a specialist unit at Wythenshawe.
Overnight her condition worsened and she passed away late the following day with her family present.
Prosecuting barrister Peter Barr said Hughes accepted he had been inhaling laughing gas from a balloon while driving.
Mr Barr said nitrous oxide had become a popular recreational drug in recent years, but it causes euphoria and can cause unconsciousness if inhaled to excess.
When police searched Hughes’ bedroom at his home in Haddington Drive, Blackley, Manchester they found eight two-litre canisters of the drug – normally used in commercial processes – some of them empty.
Mr Barr said the maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving was life imprisonment.
In terms of culpability for the offence, Hughes had been involved in “consistent and prolonged dangerous driving.”
In an emotional victim impact statement read out in court by Bonny’s mother, she said the date her daughter died would “be one which will be forever etched on my memory.”
She told the judge how she and other family members had been at the hospital praying for a miracle that Bonny would pull through, but after more than 24 hours fighting for life she passed away.
“She had her whole life ahead of her, she had so much left to achieve,” she said.
“I know she would have achieved great things.”
And of Hughes she said: “All he had to do that day was to be responsible and get Bonny home safely.
“Her safety and welfare should have been his main concern, but clearly it wasn’t.
“It would have been easier had she been killed by a stranger rather than him. It has cost me my beautiful daughter.”
Barrister Richard Dawson, representing Hughes, said the case was “tragic” and his client’s driving had had “catastrophic consequences.”
“No sentence, however long, could ever restore Bonny’s life or cure the family’s anguish,” he said.
He also told the judge that while prison must inevitably follow, in reality there could be no sentence that could reduce the level of torment that Hughes had inflicted on himself by his actions.
He said as an adult, and as the driver, he should have ensured that Bonny was wearing a seatbelt that night.
Mr Dawson said Hughes had the nitrous oxide canister in the van’s cab because he was intending to use it with friends later.
He said his client’s mental health had worsened following the crash, he had suffered post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and was wracked by guilt.
Sentencing Hughes to ten years in prison, but with a 25 per cent discount for an early guilty plea, Judge Lloyd told Hughes: “Bonny had just finished her mock GCSEs and her whole life was ahead of her.
“She was a well-loved member of the family and she enjoyed your company and you and her were very close. There was a close bond [between you] and it was always filled with fun and laughter.
“They thought they could always look to you to look after Bonny’s safety if they needed to. You have betrayed their trust in you.”
She said on that fateful trip “tragic choices” had been made.
"Bonny was killed by your stupid dangerous actions. Bonny should have been your main priority on that day.
“Of course you didn't intend this to happen to someone you loved.
“You and her were having a good time as you drove along. But you could have had a good time without using nitrous oxide. You allowed Bonny to do so also.
“It doesn’t matter whose idea it was to inhale it as you drove. In any event you were the adult and if Bonny decided to use it you should have stopped her. You should not have inhaled it yourself as you drove. You were not a responsible driver that day.”
She said camera footage had shown that at times Hughes had the balloon in his hand and his mobile phone in the other.
He had narrowly avoided other vehicles, veering into another lane and even onto the hard shoulder.
Mobile phone records also showed he had sent a message less than 30 seconds before the crash.
“It was quite a shocking piece of driving,” she told him.
“A young 15-year-old’s life has been wiped out.
“I accept that you are truly remorseful and you truly feel responsible for Bonny’s death.
“The effects will be that you will have to live with this for the rest of your life – but at least you have the rest of your life.”