A trucker caused the death of a “beautiful and sensitive” nursery teacher when she was struck by a steel beam sticking out from the side of his lorry.
John O’Donnell was sentenced to 100 hours of unpaid work and banned from driving for 12 months.
The sentence came exactly three years and a day since the 2019 tragedy.
O’Donnell, 53, failed to notice a fully extended stabiliser leg was protruding from the left hand side of his vehicle, which had a crane attached, as he drove through Drumnadrochit, on the A82 on the western shore of Loch Ness.
It struck Chloe Morrison, 26, in the back, sweeping her to her death as she walked along the pavement with her mother.
Ms Morrison, who was from the Inverness-shire village, was propelled 115ft and died from multiple fractures.
At the High Court in Stirling, Chloe’s father screamed “No, no, no”, at the top of his voice, and “I’m so sorry, Chloe”, when judge Lord Stuart said O’Donnell’s case “did not warrant a custodial sentence”.
O’Donnell, from Inverurie, Aberdeenshire, appeared for sentencing after being found guilty following a six-day trial at the High Court in Inverness last month of causing Chloe’s death by careless driving.
He had originally been charged with causing death by dangerous driving, but was convicted by a jury of the lesser offence.
The court heard O’Donnell had driven his lorry from Oldmeldrum in Aberdeenshire to the north of Skye on October 24, 2019, where his load of cable ducts was taken off.
He stayed overnight and said that he had dropped his stabilising legs the following day because of gales, although he was not trained to do so. Later he set off on his return journey.
He insisted he did not extend or touch the controls of the outrigger beams – entirely separate from the stabilising legs.
But CCTV showed the nearside outrigger’s yellow warning band was indicating it was unlocked, when he filled up with diesel on Skye.
Evidence showed the warning sign would have been visible in O’Donnell’s nearside mirror.
A tearful O’Donnell said he did not know what the yellow sign meant but agreed if he had and had seen it in his mirror, “Chloe Morrison would still be here today”.
He claimed he had visually checked the lorry during a rest break in Invermoriston, near Fort Augustus, and did not see anything untoward.
But he told the jury: “I have lost faith in myself. I don’t have anything left in me to drive HGVs.”
A passenger in a car travelling in the opposite direction saw the outrigger swing out seconds before the lorry reaching the scene of the collision.
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 he said the court could never know how, when, or where the outrigger came to be unlocked.
He added: “Death causes devastation to families, and leaves the bereaved in a state of desolation. When it occurs in circumstances in any way bringing culpability to someone else, it will also bring anger.”
Lord Stuart said how the outrigger became insecure was “unanswered”.
He said: “But for the act or omission by which the outriggers became insecure, Miss Morrison’s death would not have occurred. Had they not been made or left insecure, the accused would not have been left to drive a lorry that was, unbeknownst to him, actually lethal.”
He said it was also unanswered why the lorry, made in 2005, had not been serviced by loader-crane makers Palfinger or their agents over its entire life – and whether, had it been serviced, it have been fitted with safety upgrades that might have warned O’Donnell about the insecure outrigger.
He said such safety upgrades – the latest completely disconnects the lorry’s drive if an outrigger is insecure – had been developed because of known incidents in which vehicles been hit by outriggers.
Lord Stuart said O’Donnell’s carelessness must have been his failure to spot the outrigger in his mirror at some point over a distance of just under a mile when it was known to have become fully extended.
But he said it could not be known whether this occurred over a minute before the collision, or just seconds before.
The court heard it was industry practice at the time for drivers to drive lorries with cranes fitted, without having training in their use, provided they did not use the equipment.
Lord Stuart told O’Donnell: “Against this background, whilst recognising the tragic outcome in this case, I consider that placed in its overall context, your culpability for the death of Ms Morrison is significant less than it might otherwise have been.”
Leaving court, Chloe’s father slammed the sentence.
And he said of O’Donnell, “He’s a b*****d”.
In an earlier statement, Ms Morrison’s family described the death of “beloved” Chloe as a tragedy.
The family said: “Chloe was our beautiful, sensitive, funny and much-loved daughter, cherished dearly not just by us but by all of her close friends and work colleagues. Her memories will remain with us forever.”