The father of a “beautiful and sensitive” nursery teacher killed after being struck by a steel beam protruding from a lorry has branded the sentence handed down to the driver as “insulting”.
Chloe Morrison died from her injuries when she was hit by a stabilising leg on John O’Donnell’s vehicle after the trucker failed to notice the equipment had not been retracted.
The 53-year-old was banned for driving for 12 months and ordered to carry out 100 hours of unpaid work over the October 2019 death – a verdict that was met with outrage by family when it was read at the High Court in Stirling on Wednesday.
O’Donnell was found guilty of causing Chloe’s death by careless driving, despite originally being charged with causing death by dangerous driving.
Chloe’s father, Robert, said the sentence “felt like losing [her] all over again” as he announced plans to appeal the sentence.
He added: “How could O’Donnell kill someone else – either through arrogance or stupidity – then stand on that witness stand and make out like he didn’t know anything about the vehicle he was in control of?
“To add insult and trauma to our loss he then just gets an effective slap on the wrist… it’s utterly insulting.
“We will be speaking with the fiscal next week to discuss this outcome but this can’t be final – I really hope the COPFS appeal this ludicrous sentence.
“We were assured to stay patient for more than three years and that justice would be done but it hasn’t.”
Chloe, 26, had been walking with her mother in the village of Drumnadrochit shortly before the incident on October 24, 2019.
The court heard O’Donnell had not been trained to drop the stabilising legs of the vehicle – which had a crane attached – before dropping his load off in the north of Skye.
He was returning to Oldmeldrum in Aberdeenshire the following day, but had extended the legs in an effort to protect against gale-force winds, he said.
He claimed he had visually checked the lorry during a rest break in Invermoriston, near Fort Augustus, but admitted he did not know why a yellow light in the cabin, which indicated the leg was released, was blinking when he filled up his tank on Skye.
Chloe was thrown 115ft after being swept along by the beam. She later passed away from her injuries.
During the court case, defence counsel Tony Graham KC said O’Donnell understood “the moral responsibility he will take to his own grave over the destruction of the life of Chloe”.
But Mr Morrison claimed the trucker was unrepentant when he walked by him outside the court.
“While we always knew this was an accident there still has to be clear understandings about what happened, accountability and lessons to be learned to ensure no other family ever goes through this kind of situation,” he said.
“We had to walk past him outside court and I went up to him and said ‘You have no idea how much harm you have caused this family’.
“It took everything in me to walk away.”
Robert added: “O’Donnell probably spent his night celebrating his freedom – as for us, we went to the cemetery in tears feeling like the loss of our daughter counted for nothing.
“We know there’s a consultation underway on death by driving – I hope it sorts outcomes like this because the whole system is a mess.”
Chloe’s family has now launched a civil action over the verdict.
Sam Cowie, partner at law firm Digby Brown, said: “We were deeply shocked and saddened with what happened to Chloe because not only was her death untimely and unfair but it was completely avoidable.
“Chloe and the Morrison family deserve to be recognised and have chance to hold those responsible to account so we will support them throughout a civil process.”
During the trial, a tearful O’Donnell told jurors that he did not know the meaning of a yellow warning sign that was indicating something was wrong.
He agreed if he had and had seen it in his mirror, “Chloe Morrison would still be here today”.
He told the jury: “I have lost faith in myself. I don’t have anything left in me to drive HGVs.”
STV News is now on WhatsApp
Get all the latest news from around the countryFollow STV News
Follow STV News on WhatsApp
Scan the QR code on your mobile device for all the latest news from around the country