A surgeon whose momentary lapse of concentration at the wheel caused a fatal head-on crash in which a woman died escaped a prison sentence today.
Alexander McAuslan was banned from driving and ordered to carry out unpaid work in the community after a judge said that a custodial sentence was not in the public interest.
The respected doctor’s Land Rover Discovery Sport was seen “drifting across” into the oncoming lane before it crashed into Rodica Pamphilon’s Ford Fiesta near Fordel Mains, Midlothian, on 5 August 2016.
Romanian-born Mrs Pamphilon, 46, who lived in Ormiston, East Lothian, died from serious head and chest injuries in the smash on the A68 Edinburgh to Lauder road.
McAuslan, 65, of Edgehead, Dalkeith, Midlothian, admitted driving without due care and attention or without reasonable consideration for others, failing to pay proper attention to the road in front of him, crossing onto the opposing carriageway and colliding with the Fiesta.
Euan Dow, defending, told the High Court at Livingston that the accused’s driving on his way home from work at Borders General Hospital had been without fault until a very short distance before the fatal crash.
He said: “The left hand bend had not long commenced before the collision occurred. It would appear that a very few seconds of attention, however inexplicable, were involved.
“For some reason the accused has failed to react to a gentle deviation to the left then failed to react to the imminent impact with the deceased’s motor vehicle.
“It’s Mr McAuslan’s position – and has been from the outset – that he has no recollection at all of the collision and the moments immediately preceding it. He’s unable to provide any explanation as to why he did not successfully negotiate the left hand bend.
“The circumstances do not suggest this is case where the accused fell asleep. He was not tired, he was not overworked.
“All witness statements suggest he was driving appropriately with the exception of those few seconds which clearly led to the tragic circumstances.”
Mr Dow said the accused had been seriously injured in the crash and didn’t regain consciousness until he was in hospital being treated for broken ribs and a broken ankle.
He added: “The driving could properly be categorised as careless driving arising from momentary inattention with no aggravating features.
“He has repeatedly expressed remorse, and those expressions of remorse are genuine and heartfelt.
“He acknowledges impact his conduct has had on the family of the deceased. He’s had years of dealing with family members of those with life threatening and life changing injuries.
“I hope that, notwithstanding the tragic consequences of the accused’s driving on the occasion in question, there’s an appropriate alternative to custody in this case.”
Passing sentence, Judge Lord Burns told McAuslan: “The reason for the obvious lapse of concentration which caused your car to drift over to the opposing carriageway and collide with (Mrs Pamphilon’s) car remains wholly unexplained. There is no suggestion, however, of excessive speed.
“The occupants of the cars behind you saw nothing abnormal in the manner of your driving, there is no indication or evidence before me to show that your attention was distracted by the use of any device such as a mobile phone and the Crown have accepted the deletion that you fell asleep.
“Significantly in this case it is also accepted that the inattention that caused this tragic accident lasted only a few seconds.
“You’ll have to live with the consequences of ending another person’s life. Nothing you can do – and nothing this court can do – can bring comfort to Mrs Pamphilon’s family who mourn her and will have to continue to try and rebuild their lives in the aftermath of her death.”
He continued: “You are now 65 years of age. You have had a long professional life exercising your medical skills to alleviate the suffering of people and I accept you are highly regarded in your profession.”
Lord Burns highlighted that the accused had no criminal record and was responsible for caring for his sick wife.
He added: “I accept that you have demonstrated genuine remorse for your actions which were in no way intentional. I have to have regard to the fact that you are a first offender.
“I have come to the conclusion that the public interest does not require a custodial sentence in this case and I can deal with it by way of a community disposal – a community payback order – as an alternative to custody.”
He sentenced McAuslan to carry out 275 hours of unpaid work within nine months and banned him from driving for three years and nine months.
Members of Mrs Pamphilon’s family who watched from the public gallery as Lord Burns passed sentence declined to comment as they left the court building.
Earlier they paid tribute to a “loving and gentle woman who was loved by so many”.
They said in a statement: “We are devastated by her loss in such a tragic way. She will be so dearly missed.”
Outside court the retired orthopaedic surgeon, who initially told police he might have fallen asleep at the wheel, admitted that he was still bewildered about what had caused the head on crash.
He said: “It was the most awful accident. You spend your life tending people who’ve been in accidents and putting them back together. You try to save people and you think you’ve done well.
“I mean what if the corner had turned the other way? I’d have bumped into the verge.
“What if it had been 10 seconds earlier, 10 seconds later. Two seconds earlier, one second even. What if, what if, what if?
“You can’t undo it.”