No jail for death-wish driver

A teenager who suffered depression over the deaths of three friends in a road crash narrowly avoided a custodial sentence yesterday after he tried to kill himself by driving at high speed into a roundabout.

A teenager who suffered depression over the deaths of three friends in a road crash narrowly avoided a custodial sentence yesterday after he tried to kill himself by driving at high speed into a roundabout.

Simon Tooke's, Vauxhall Corsa hit the roundabout so hard that it spun through the air and ended up in a nearby field, a court heard.

Tooke, 18, was pulled from the wreckage by police officers who had been pursuing him and escaped with minor injuries, Lowestoft Magistrates were told.

An earlier court hearing was told that suicide notes were found in the car and Tooke admitted to police it was his intention to take his own life.

Tooke, of Foxes Walk, Lowestoft, said he had become depressed following a crash on the A12 at Blythburgh, which claimed the lives of schoolgirls Claire and Jenny Stoddart and Carla Took. He had visited the girls' graves hours before the crash.

Tooke pleaded guilty to dangerous driving when he appeared before the court on December 11 and the case was adjourned until yesterday.

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Chairman of the bench Christopher Bowles told him: “You will realise that recommendations for dangerous driving in our guidelines include custody. We have listened to everything that has been said on your behalf and read the pre-sentence report and decided not to send you to prison.”

Tooke, who wants to join the Army, was given a community order for 12 months and will have to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work. He was also banned from driving for a year and ordered to pay £60 costs.

Corrinne Gook-Hurren, prosecuting, said concern for Tooke's welfare was raised several hours before the pursuit during the early hours of September 15 last year when relatives reported to police that he was missing.

His car was later seen being driven without lights in Denmark Road, Lowestoft, and it drove through a red traffic light before heading out of town along Peto Way and Millennium Way and on to the A12.

“He picked up speed and was doing around 80mph when he approached the roundabout at Rackham's Corner,” added Mrs Gook-Hurren. “He made no effort to slow down and when his car hit the roundabout, it took off into the air. It totally cleared the roundabout and ended up in a field. He was pulled clear from the vehicle with minor injuries.”

Susan Clegg, for Tooke, urged magistrates not to jail him, saying a custodial sentence would interrupt a programme of counselling he was taking part in.

Sisters Claire and Jenny Stoddart, aged 18 and 15 respectively, and Carla Took, 18, were returning from a Red Hot Chili Peppers' concert in Ipswich on July 1 last year when their car was involved in a head-on collision at Blythburgh. The Benjamin Britten High School pupils were killed along with two people in the other car.

Ben Morphey, 22, of High Street, Yoxford, will stand trial later this year, charged with five counts of causing death by dangerous driving.