Teenager’s ‘momentary lapse of judgement’ killed her friend, says judge

Emily Challen.
Emily Challen.
Have your say

A teenage driver caused the death of a fellow school student when she drove straight into the back of a broken down lorry, a court heard.

Aimee Culpin simply failed to see the 44-tonne truck in front of her as she travelled along a slip road to enter the A1 at Long Bennington.

Culpin was driving to Kesteven and Grantham Girls’ School where she and her three passengers were in the sixth form.

Lincoln Magistrates’ Court was told that the subsequent impact with the lorry was “immense” and her front seat passenger Emily Challen died instantly.

Culpin, 19, of Costa Row, Long Bennington, admitted causing death by careless driving as a result of the incident on the morning of 15 February 2013. She was given a 12-month community order with 200 hours of unpaid work. She was also banned from driving for 18 months and ordered to pay £150 costs.

District Judge John Stobart, passing sentence in front of a packed public gallery, told Culpin: “This is a dreadful case. It is tragic, it is awful.

“Every person that sits in front of me today has been changed by it, and for the worse.

“It was a momentary lapse of judgement which could happen to any of us. I am punishing you for the driving and that must be borne in mind.”

David Beal, prosecuting, said the lorry driver, who was taking a load from Lincoln to London, suffered a problem with a tyre and had pulled up on the slip road to await help.

He parked his vehicle in a way that left room for both cars and lorries to pass but Culpin failed to see the 12-foot high vehicle.

Mr Beal said: “She told police she put on speed and was travelling at 40mph, accelerating towards the A1. She was looking over her right shoulder. She failed entirely to see the broken down articulated lorry in the nearside lane.

“She drove in to the rear of it. The impact was immense. The roof was taken clear off the Corsa. Emily was killed almost instantly.

“The defendant failed to see what was in front of her when she was driving a vehicle at 40mph.”

He said that Emily was a highly regarded student who had received four offers from universities and was looking forward to a successful career.

The court heard that after the crash one of the girls in the vehicle rang Emily’s mother Jennifer who was at the scene within minutes

In a victim impact statement read out in court Mrs Challen said: “I saw Emily as she was getting into Aimee’s car.

“Ten minutes or so later I had a phone call saying there had been an accident and to come quickly. I went to the A1 slip road where I immediately saw in the distance a large lorry with Aimee’s car embedded in the back of it.

“When I reached the car Emily was still in it. The corner of the lorry was sitting on top of where Emily’s head had been.

“It was a horror scene.My daughter lying there with barely a pulse is something that will haunt me forever.

“I could not and still can not understand how Aimee could have got her car in to this position, causing the death of my daughter.

“Emily was my best friend and a soul mate. The family has been devastated. The death of Emily has left a massive hole in our lives.”

Sunil Khanna, defending, said that Culpin, who is now studying sports science at Northumbria University in Newcastle, accepts she was looking over her shoulder for oncoming traffic as she was about to enter the A1 rather than looking in front of her.

He said that she passed her driving test eight months earlier and knew the stretch of road well from her daily trips to school and also from having regularly driven on that road while having lessons.

“She was not speeding, she was not using her mobile phone, she was not texting. What happened here was a tragic set of circumstances. She has thought again and again about what she could have done differently and how she did not see that lorry.

“Not a day has gone by that Miss Culpin has not thought about Emily Challen and what happened that day.”

He said Culpin is continuing to receive counselling for what happened.

Solicitor Michael Pace, on behalf of Emily’s family, said afterwards: “Emily Challen died very tragically in a collision on 15 February 2013 whilst a front seat passenger in a car driven by Miss Culpin when she drove into the rear of a stationary lorry.

“The family has gained some relief from Miss Culpin finally accepting responsibility for Emily’s death by pleading guilty.

“Emily impressed everyone she met and she will not be forgotten by all those who had the pleasure of knowing her.

“Any sentence will never reflect the circumstances of an event like this.”