An Italian tourist who was extradited to Scotland has been jailed after he was convicted of causing the deaths of five people, including his oldest son, in a horrific road crash.
Alfredo Ciociola was driving a Fiat minibus when he collided with a Nissan SUV on the wrong side of the road at the Drummuir junction on the A96 near Keith in Morayshire.
His son Lorenzo, four, died in the carnage along with a rear passenger in his vehicle Maltese Frances Saliba, 63. Her husband Francesco Patane was seriously injured along with Ciociola’s wife Concetta, who was also in the back with her children. His younger son Frederico, then aged three, escaped with minor injuries.
The driver of the other car Morag Smith, 44, was also severely injured and her three passengers Edward Reid, known as Ted, 63, Evalyn Collie, 69, and Audrey Appleby, 70, died following the crash as they returned home from a line dancing session in Elgin, in Moray.
Ciociola, 50, an officer with the Italian Coast guard, who was also injured, had denied causing the deaths by driving dangerously on the A96 on July 26 in 2018.
A jury convicted him of the lesser offence of causing the deaths by careless driving and deleted allegations that he had fallen asleep and repeatedly braked from the charge. Ciociola had failed to pay proper attention to the road ahead and drove into the opposing carriageway before the collision.
A judge told him at the High Court in Edinburgh: “You have been convicted of a serious charge, involving the deaths of five people, including your own son, and the serious injury of three people. It is a very serious matter.”
Lord Mulholland told jurors it was a “very anxious” case with tragic consequences for a number of people.
He ordered that Ciociola should be remanded in custody for the preparation of a background report ahead of sentencing next month.
The court heard that Ciociola, from Syracusa, in Sicily, was granted bail by a Scottish court in 2019 but failed to appear for a trial last year. A court in Sicily instructed his extradition to Scotland and despite an appeal against that ruling his return was ordered by a supreme court on the Italian island.
During his trial Ciociola maintained he was well rested as he acted as sole driver for the group of visitors as they travelled north from Edinburgh to Inverness, where they were booked in for the night, via Glamis Castle and Dunottar Castle, at Stonehaven, during their sightseeing tour around Scotland.
He said that he and his wife, who has had another son since the collision, had planned to get car seats for the two boys in Inverness after failing to get them in Edinburgh.
Ciociola said he did not know if everyone in the vehicle had seat belts on when he left Stonehaven on the last leg of the journey. Collision investigators found that those in the rear of the minibus did not have their seat belts engaged.
He told the High Court in Edinburgh: “We drove for two hours, we rested for two hours and we did the same throughout the journey, so I was rested.”
He said he did not know anything about the A96 but was surprised by it and found it to be a “very dangerous” road.
Ciociola said, through an interpreter, “I tried to be as cautious as I could. I tried to pay attention to everything around me as much as I could.”
He said that as they were approaching the collision sight on a bend shortly before midnight he had asked his wife, who was in the rear with the children, if one of their sons was sleeping.
Ciociola said she did not reply and he looked in his rearview mirror, but could not see anything. He said: “I had seen the other car and it was just in front of me when it overcame the bend.”
He said the headlights were “very strong” and he became disorientated. He added: “I was sure, I was convinced that we were on the same line and instinctively I went to the right.”
Ciociola said he had very limited previous experience of driving in Scotland. He told the court: “I have been driving on the right for over 30 years. It is not very easy to get accustomed to driving on the left.”
His defence counsel Ian Duguid QC asked him how he felt when he learnt that three people had died in the car he struck and he said: “It is the most terrible thing that you can hear and the pain of the families is also my pain.”
Prosecutor Derick Nelson asked him if he realised that Scotland, particularly rural Scotland, was different from much of the rest of the UK. He replied: “Now I know.”
He told the court: “I was not very familiar with the places we were visiting.” He said that part of the trip from Edinburgh to Glamis was dual carriageway and added: “I thought the whole road was going to be the same.”
The advocate depute said Ciociola had checked in his rear view mirror to look behind him after there was no response when he checked whether a child was sleeping at a time when he should have kept his eyes on the road. Ciociola said: “I tried to keep my eyes on the road.”
Mr Nelson said: “If you had kept your eyes on the road you would have seen those lights coming sooner.” He replied: “Yes.”
Mr Patane, 74, who was the front seat passenger in the minibus, said he realised that the vehicle was travelling in the wrong carriageway before the “terrible impact” occurred.
He said Ciociola had seemed “relaxed and perfectly fine at the wheel” during the journey, but he did have concerns about the road.
But he said he appreciated that prior to the collision they were in the wrong lane. He said: “I shouted because I saw the lights of the car coming.”
He was asked if Ciociola had reacted to his shout but said: “There was no time. There was not enough time for that.”
But other motorists had seen the vehicle regularly brake and veer onto the wrong lane at bends before the collision occurred.
Mary Thomson, 53, who was driving back to Fochabers, in Moray, from Aberdeen with her mother, said: “He would go across the white line and the white line would be underneath the vehicle.” She said: “Because he was over the road I didn’t want to try to overtake him.” She later passed the minibus at the end of an overtaking lane on a stretch of road between Huntly and Keith.
Her mother Mary Thomson, 75, said: “He seemed to take some of the bends okay and then one or two bends he veered too much into the bend.”
“We speculated he was either falling asleep or too much alcohol. I kept wondering why he didn’t stop and have a rest and he didn’t.”
After the crash passersby, including circus performers, alerted emergency services and tried to help victims. Acrobat David Amoll, 28, used a sledgehammer to break a rear window of the minibus and a colleague went into the vehicle.
“He picked the first kid up and brought him out. He was unresponsive. To me he was not breathing at all,” he said, adding: “He handed me the second child who was covered in blood. He was very stressed and crying.”