A learner driver who killed his friend by smashing a car into a wall after a night out has been jailed for five years.
The High Court in Edinburgh heard on Wednesday how Stuart McCulloch's denial that he was at the wheel led to a search of fields surrounding the crash site on the A9 - assisted by a police dog.
At an earlier hearing McCulloch of Claylock, Halkirk, Caithness, pleaded guilty to causing the death of Michael Cameron by driving carelessly while unfit because of drink in the early hours of February 26 last year.
Advocate depute Richard Goddard said a blood sample taken when injured McCulloch was treated in hospital showed an alcohol reading of 102mg. The legal limit is 80mg per 100ml of blood.
The court heard that McCulloch, 28, and his friend Mr Cameron, 23, met up the previous evening for dinner at Mr Cameron's home.
They then headed back to Halkirk for drinks in Mr Cameron's Vauxhall Astra. Police spoke to McCulloch in Thurso town centre at 2.30am and found him "confrontational" and under the influence of drink.
Half an hour later on the Thurso to Inverness road near Spittal the car spun across the road out of control and smashed into a stone building and a dry stone dyke.
Mr Cameron suffered fatal head injuries and died instantly.
Sentencing Mr McCulloch Lord Pentland said: "Despite your inexperience as a driver and your drunken state you made a deliberate decision to drive.
"I am well aware no sentence I impose can possibly serve to undo the devastating consequences of your grossly irresponsible behaviour.
"Your reprehensible conduct brought about the untimely death of a young man who had been your friend."
Solicitor advocate Neil Wilson, defending, said McCulloch accepted he would go to jail and lose his licence - but he did not think he would ever want to drive again.
McCulloch had no recollection of the crash but accepted full responsibility, said the lawyer, and wished to apologise to Mr Cameron's family and friends.
The court heard that after the smash Mr Cameron was found in the passenger seat of the wrecked car, wearing his seat belt.
Semi-conscious McCulloch was around 100ft down the road and told witnesses he had not been driving and repeated his claim to police who arrived at the crash scene, forcing officers to search the surrounding area.
Crash investigators found debris scattered over both sides of the road and the car engine and bonnet torn off.
They said the car was driving "at speed" but could not establish how fast.
McCulloch was also banned from holding or obtaining a driving licence for ten years.