A survivor of a fatal crash that claimed the lives of five people, including his wife, told a court that he realised the vehicle he was travelling in was in the wrong carriageway before “a terrible impact” occurred.
Francesco Patane was a front seat passenger in a minibus being driven by Alfredo Ciociola as they travelled with their wives and the driver’s two young sons, Lorenzo and Frederico, aged four and three, towards Inverness on a touring holiday of Scotland when the crash took place.
Mr Patane, 74, told the High Court in Edinburgh that Ciociola had seemed “relaxed and perfectly fine at the wheel” but he did have concerns about the road, including a lot of bends.
Advocate depute Derick Nelson asked him if there was anything about the manner of driving that gave him any cause for concern as they headed towards Inverness from Stonehaven and he replied: “No, never, no worries.”
But prior to the collision Mr Patane, who gave his evidence through an Italian interpreter, said he appreciated that the vehicle was in the wrong carriageway.
The prosecutor asked if he said anything to Ciociola and he said: “There was no time for that. I shouted. I shouted because I saw the lights of the car coming. It was a terrible impact, that’s why I shouted.”
Mr Patane was asked if Ciociola had reacted in any way to his shout and said: “There was no time. There was not enough time for that.”
He said that after the collision he tried to call his wife Frances Saliba, 63, but she was not responding. She was later placed on a stretcher after the emergency services arrived but did not look like she was alive, he added.
Italian Ciociola, 50, has denied causing the deaths of Frances Saliba, his son Lorenzo Ciociola, Edward Reid, Audrey Appleby and Evalyn Collie on July 26 in 2018 by driving dangerously.
It is alleged that on the A96 road near Inveramsay Bridge, near Pitcaple, Aberdeenshire, between Inverurie and Keith and on the A96 near to the Drummuir Junction, Keith, Moray, between Huntly and Keith he failed to pay proper attention to the road ahead, fell asleep, repeatedly braked and drove onto the opposing carriageway and collided with a car driven by Morag Smith.
She was seriously injured and her passengers Audrey Appleby, Edward Reid and Evalyn Collie died. The court heard that Mr Reid and Ms Appleby died after sustaining chest injuries. Ms Collie, Ms Saliba and Lorenzo died from multiple injuries.
Ciociola’s wife Concetta Passanisi, who was also a passenger in the minibus he was driving, also suffered injuries that were severe, permanently disfiguring and will cause permanent impairment.
Jurors were told in agreed evidence that she was treated at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary until September 24 in 2018. She remained unconscious throughout. She was subsequently flown back to a hospital in Italy and later regained consciousness, but suffered significant memory loss.
Mr Patane, a retired chemical plant technician who now lives in Malta, said the holidaymakers had planned an itinerary for their tour of Scotland before flying from Sicily to Edinburgh.
They had intended to travel north from the Scottish capital to see Dunnottar Castle, at Stonehaven and then on to Inverness. They had then planned to take in Orkney, Argyll and Loch Lomond before returning to Edinburgh with Ciociola as driver of their hire vehicle.
They left their hotel in Edinburgh about 9am on July 26 and stopped at a castle before travelling on to Dunnottar and then having food in Stonehaven.
They then set off for Inverness from Stonehaven about 9pm, when Mr Patane said there was still a lit bit of light in the sky but it was already getting dark. The collision occurred shortly before midnight.
The trial before Lord Mulholland continues.