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County Durham: Lorry driver who killed three people after trawling dating sites while on motorway is jailed

A trucker who killed three people after trawling dating sites for casual sex while driving on a busy motorway has been jailed for almost nine years.

Ion Onut, 41, was “utterly oblivious” as he ploughed into stationary traffic on the A1(M) in County Durham, seconds after scrolling on his phone.

Dash cam footage showed his lorry cab burst into flames and career 100m (328ft) along the motorway after the initial crash caused an explosion.

He was “utterly engrossed” in “pursuit of sexual gratification” and failed to brake, driving into the traffic at 58mph, Durham Crown Court heard.

Couple David Daglish and Elaine Sullivan from Seaham, County Durham, and Paul Mullen, from Washington, Tyne and Wear, all died instantly.

Onut was looking at adult websites S*** Today and Mystic Match and had spent £50 to engage with users.

He was browsing the sites and editing his own profile for up to 40 minutes prior to the smash, close to the Bowburn junction around 6.15pm on 15 July, 2021.

Onut admitted three counts of causing death by dangerous driving.

He was jailed for eight years and 10 months and banned from the road for 10 years after his release.

Sentencing, Judge James Adkin told him: “You were not asleep at the wheel, which would have been bad enough, in fact you were trawling the internet looking for casual sexual partners.”

Onut was living with family in Galashiels, Scotland, and was transporting fertiliser for a haulage firm.

He initially hit the Vaxhaull Crossland carrying Mr Dalglish, 57, and Ms Sullivan, 59.

He then smashed 51-year-old Mr Mullen’s Toyota Hilux under another lorry before continuing on the road – leaving three others hurt.

An earlier incident caused traffic to build up, with a 50mph limit put in place – but Onut was seen weaving across lanes ahead of the tragedy.

Prosecutor Nick Dry told the court: “He was utterly engrossed in internet activity, in pursuit of sexual gratification, over an extended period of time while in control of a large goods vehicle on a busy motorway.”

Ms Sullivan’s son, Junior, told of his grief at losing his mother and stepfather.

He described feeling “unbearable rage at the sight of other drivers using their mobile phones”.

Mr Mullen’s daughter, Orlaigh, told the court how he was a hard-working family man, loving father-of-three and had been about to become a grandfather.

Meanwhile Lauren Cawton was left with chronic leg pain and said her life has been ruined.

Molly Smith, who was in the final weeks of her pregnancy, revealed how the crash had left her feeling “stressed, angry and guilty”.

Another lorry driver, Michael Hosty, who rushed to help Onut out of his burning cab, said he now had post-traumatic stress disorder.

Defending, Richard Bloomfield apologised on behalf of Onut for the “devastation” caused.

Speaking after the case, Sergeant Catherine Iley said: “It was incredibly distressing and upsetting for those who witnessed the collision and for the emergency responders, including police officers, firefighters and paramedics, who attended the scene.

“The horror of what they witnessed that day will no doubt remain with them for many years to come.”

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