Young driver crashed and killed her best friend, 18, when she was speeding and ‘clowning’ around just a month after passing her driving test
- Tayla King, 18, lost control of her car on a straight stretch of road in Swansea
A young driver who crashed and killed her best friend when she was speeding and ‘clowning’ had only just passed her driving test around a month before, a court has heard.
Tayla King lost control of her car on a straight stretch of road in Swansea. She crashed down an embankment and into a tree, causing her passenger, Chantelle Thomas, 18, to suffer catastrophic injuries.
Despite the best efforts of passing motorists who stopped to help – including a passing police officer who was driving home at the end of his shift – as well as firefighters and paramedics, Miss Thomas could not be saved and died at the scene.
Sentencing King at Swansea Crown Court, a judge said a young life was an ‘incalculable blessing’ to their parents, adding that no sentence a court could pass could bring comfort to those who were grieving, nor put a value on a life.
Ian Wright, prosecuting, said King, who was 18 at the time, had only held a full driving licence for 33 days when, on the night of January 22 last year, she drove two friends from their homes in the Swansea Valley to Mumbles and back.
Tayla King, 18, lost control of her car on a straight stretch of road in Swansea. She crashed down an embankment and into a tree, causing her passenger, Chantelle Thomas, (pictured) to suffer catastrophic injuries
The court heard the manner of King’s driving caused concern to her passengers throughout that evening, with the teenager driving at speed, occasionally drifting into the opposite lane, and leaving braking at red traffic lights so late it was feared that she would not actually be able to stop in time.
The court heard of one incident during the journey when King had been travelling at speed around the sharp bend near the ‘Big Apple’ kiosk in Mumbles when she had ended up on the wrong side of the road, though fortunately there had been no oncoming vehicles.
The prosecutor said warnings to the driver and appeals for her to slow down from her passengers went unheeded. On the return journey back up the Swansea Valley the defendant was seen to be travelling at around 90mph on the approach to the Pontardawe roundabout.
The court heard one of the passengers was dropped off at her home in Alltwen, leaving just King and Miss Thomas in the Citroen C1, a car that had been a birthday present for the defendant from her father.
At just after 1.15am the next morning the car left the main A4067 Swansea Valley road between Pontardawe and Godre’r Graig, crashing down an embankment and into a tree.
Mr Wright said the Citroen suffered ‘extensive damage’ in the collision. King was able to extricate herself from the car and returned to the road where she flagged down a passing motorist, British Transport Police officer Rhys Lewis, who was driving home at the end of his shift.
The court heard King told the officer: ‘I’ve crashed and I think I’ve killed my friend.’
The off-duty officer advised King to sit in the car of another motorist who had stopped at the scene and the defendant was heard to say: ‘I was speeding and clowning around… going too fast and showing off.’
The court heard the policeman then went to the crashed car and stayed with the gravely injured passenger, holding her hand until paramedics arrived.
The prosecutor said Miss Thomas had to be cut from the car by firefighters and despite the best efforts of paramedics who provided advanced life support, she could not be saved and was pronounced dead at the scene at 2.53am.
It was later established that she died from multiple injuries, including severe brain injuries, as a passenger in a road traffic collision.
The driver, King, was also injured in the crash and spent a week in hospital being treated for a fractured pelvis and collarbone, as well as spleen and kidney injuries. During two subsequent police interviews she answered ‘no comment’ to all questions asked.
In an impact statement from Miss Thomas’ mum Denise that was read to court she described her daughter as her best friend who liked nothing more than catching up with her on the sofa watching a film.
She said her daughter had ambitions to be a primary school teacher and she described the pain and devastation caused to the family by her death.
The mum said she fell into a deep depression following her daughter’s death, and said she now battles every day to complete the normal tasks in life.
The mother said she struggles every time she walks past her daughter’s untouched bedroom and said every time she enters the living room of the house she sees the police officer who broke the news of her death.
Despite the best efforts of passing motorists who stopped to help – including a passing police officer who was driving home at the end of his shift – as well as firefighters and paramedics, 18-year-old Chantelle Thomas could not be saved and died at the scene
She added that she felt King had expressed no ‘remorse and no respect’ by continuing to post photographs of herself on social media in the months after the crash.
The court heard that a crash investigator had been unable to establish the speed of the Citroen at the time it left the road, and found no evidence of any braking by the driver before the incident.
The investigator concluded the car had begun to ‘yaw’ and spin into the opposite carriageway where it then hit the kerb and crashed down the embankment and into a tree.
The court heard there were no mechanical defects detected on the Citroen, and blood tests showed King had not consumed any alcohol.
Tayla King, now aged 20, of Church Street, Pontardawe, had previously pleaded guilty to causing death by careless driving when she appeared in the dock for sentencing. She has no previous convictions.
John Allchurch, defending, said King – who is currently studying at university in Cardiff – and Miss Thomas had been best friends since the age of 11.
He said the incident had involved ‘a young, inexperienced driver driving at speeds she should not have been driving at’.
The advocate read a letter to the court that the defendant had written in which she talked about the loss of her friend, and the pain and suffering she knew she had caused Miss Thomas’ family through her ‘catastrophic mistake’ on the night in question.
She also said she wished she could swap places with her friend and she said she would have to live with the guilt of what happened for the rest of her life. Mr Allchurch invited the court to suspend the prison sentence that was due.
Judge Huw Rees said every human life was precious and a young life was an ‘incalculable blessing’ to their parents.
He said no words and no sentence the court could pass would provide comfort to the family and friends of Miss Thomas, and no sentence could – nor was intended to – put a value on a life.
The judge said a friend who had been in the car on the night in question had described King’s driving as erratic and said she had been driving too fast, and he said he had come to the conclusion that the defendant’s driving had been ‘generally poor’.
He said it was important for all to understand that the defendant was not being sentenced for purposeful killing but for causing death by careless driving.
Judge Rees said the starting point on the sentencing guidelines was one of two years detention, and balancing out the aggravating and mitigation factors brought that figure down to 21 months. With a one-third discount for the guilty plea the sentence was reduced to 14 months.
The judge said that given the sentence was one of less than two years he was obliged to consider whether it had to be served immediately or could be suspended.
The judge said none of the factors meaning it would not be appropriate to suspend the sentence – the defendant posing a risk to the public, appropriate punishment only being achieved by immediate custody, and a history of failing to comply with court orders – were present, while two of the factors meaning it was appropriate to suspend – a realistic prospect of rehabilitation and strong personal mitigation – were present.
King was sentenced to 14 months detention in a young offenders institution, suspended for 12 months, and was also banned from driving for two years and ordered to complete 250 hours of unpaid work.
The judge said the public spiritedness of the off-duty police officer and the others who helped at the roadside should be commended. He said he wanted to extend the court’s sincere condolences to the family of Miss Thomas.
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