An Italian tourist claimed that he found himself driving on a “very dangerous” road in the dark in the north of Scotland before a crash that led to the deaths of five passengers, including one of his sons.
Alfredo Ciociola denied that he had fallen asleep or repeatedly driven onto the wrong side of the A96 before the collision close to the Drummuir junction near to Keith, in Moray.
He said that it was possible that he had been disorientated by the headlights of the oncoming car. He maintained that he had been very careful partly because of the road “which to me was very dangerous”.
He said he asked his wife, who was in the rear of the minibus he was driving with their two sons, if they were sleeping. When she did not reply he checked his mirror.
He told the High Court in Edinburgh: “It was dark in the back so I couldn’t see anything. I had seen the other car and it was just in front of me when it overcame the bend.”
Ciociola, 50, an Italian navy officer who works with the coastguard, said: “I saw the headlights. They were very strong. I lost my orientation. I was sure, I was convinced, that we were on the same lane and instinctively I went to the right.”
He said that after the crash he had asked if everyone was fine but only his front seat passenger, Francesco Patane, responded.
His counsel Ian Duguid KC asked him how he felt about three people dying in the car that he struck. Ciociola said, through an interpreter: “It is the most terrible thing that you can hear and the pain of the families is also my pain.”
During cross examination, advocate depute Derick Nelson put it to Ciociola that if he had kept his eyes on the road he would have seen the lights coming towards him sooner. He answered: “yes.”
But he later said in evidence: “I did something that I do several times when I drive. I check in the rearview mirror and keep my eyes on the road ahead at the same time.”
Ciociola’s eldest son Lorenzo, four, died in the crash along with Mr Patane’s wife Frances Saliba, 63. Lorenzo’s younger brother Frederico, three, escaped with minor injuries.
Morag Smith who was driving the Nissan SUV he collided with was seriously injured and her three passengers Audrey Appleby, Edward Reid and Evalyn Collie died.
Ciociola’s wife Concetta also sustained severe injuries but has given birth to another son since the collision on July 26 in 2018. He is now aged two.
Ciociola, who was also injured, has denied causing the deaths by dangerous driving. It is alleged that on the A96 he failed to pay proper attention to the road ahead, fell asleep and repeatedly braked and drove into the opposing carriageway.
He said he had very limited experience of driving in Scotland from a previous visit. They had planned a tour of the country that would take in Edinburgh, Inverness, Orkney and Argyll and he was driving from Stonehaven to Inverness when the crash occurred before midnight.
Mr Duguid asked him if he thought the A96 was dangerous and he replied: “Very dangerous. I tried to be as cautious as I could. I tried to pay attention to everything around me as much as I could.”
Ciociola told the court: “I have been driving on the right for over 30 years. It is not easy to get accustomed to driving on the left, especially when you are on a narrow street.”
Ciociola said that his wife, who was still in a coma when she was flown back to Italy on September 24 in 2018 before regaining consciousness, does not remember that she came to Scotland.
The trial before Lord Mulholland continues.