Taxi driver avoids prison over teenager's death

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The Independent Online

A taxi driver who was convicted of causing the death of a teenager by careless driving after the 18-year-old jumped from his moving cab was spared jail today.

Popular Aaron Todd suffered fatal head injuries when Paul Stephenson, 61, accelerated away from the kerb in the early hours of March 29 last year.

The apprentice joiner and talented footballer was the last of five "boisterous" friends to leave the black Fiat Scudo after Stephenson stopped on Hedworth Lane, Jarrow, South Tyneside, to allow one of them to be sick.

Mr Todd was still on board as Stephenson sped away, and he suffered fatal head injuries as he leapt out.

The teenager, of Kirkstone Avenue, Jarrow, died in hospital six days later.

The driver believed the friends, who had been celebrating a birthday, were trying to "do a runner" to avoid paying the £8.40 fare.

He was convicted of death by careless driving following a trial earlier this month, because he only made a cursory check to see if the teenagers had got out.

He missed the fact that three of them were still on board before he drove off.

The jury was instructed to clear him of death by dangerous driving.

Mr Justice Davis, sitting at Teesside Crown Court, sentenced him to nine months jail, suspended for 18 months. He will have to carry out 150 hours' unpaid work.

The judge disqualified him from driving for 18 months, effectively ending his taxi-driving career.

The judge said the sentencing exercise was "very difficult".

Stephenson, of St Hilda Street, South Shields, was of good character, did not mean to harm anyone, and had suffered two serious attacks in the course of his work previously.

But he failed to take proper care of his customers, the judge said, and may have acted in anger as well as fear.

The judge said sadly Mr Todd jumped from the vehicle as it moved off.

"That's what drunk young men do, they sometimes do reckless things," the judge said. "You as an experienced driver should have known that and should have guarded against it."

The judge stressed Mr Todd's friends had no aggressive intent , saying: "They were being boisterous, no more than that."

Mr Justice Davis expressed concern that the defendant apparently lacked remorse and gave the impression throughout the trial that he did not understand why he was prosecuted.

Mr Todd's mother Karen Rutter wept as the sentence was passed. She did not want to comment afterwards.

Peter Gair, prosecuting, summarised her Victim Impact Statement in which it was revealed he was such an outstanding apprentice, an award has been set up in his name by his employers.

He had an older brother, Peter, 21, younger brother Ronnie, six, and a step-brother Colin, and the family was finding it difficult to come to terms with his death.

Mr Todd played football for South Tyneside at junior level, before moving on to Jarrow, the court heard.

Mr Gair said Mrs Rutter had received counselling and been off work for seven months but was trying to put a brave face on things for her youngest son.

Christopher Knox, defending, said it was a "momentary misjudgment".

"It was a short period of time in which he made a decision which was wrong, and there was a tragic consequence," he said.

Stephenson declined to comment afterwards.