A truck driver has been jailed for more than eight years after his HGV struck multiple vehicles, killing three people.
Ion Onut was trawling dating sites on his mobile phone when he crashed his Scania truck into slow moving traffic on the northbound carriageway of the A1(M) last July.
Onut’s vehicle was travelling at 58mph when it struck another HGV and four cars before coming to rest at the central reservation and bursting into flames.
The 41-year-old was rescued from his burning cab by members of the public and later arrested by police at the scene.
Couple David Daglish and Elaine Sullivan from Seaham, County Durham, and Paul Mullen, from Washington, Tyne and Wear, all died instantly.
Forensic examinations of his mobile phone found that Onut, of Galashiels, in Scotland, had been repeatedly using the device’s web browser throughout his journey from Cambridgeshire right up until the time of the collision, which happened at 6.18pm at Bowburn on July 15.
He was charged with three counts of causing death by dangerous driving, which he admitted, and was jailed for eight years and 10 months. He was also disqualified from driving for more than 14 years.
Sentencing Onut, Judge James Adkin said: "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 Dalglish, 57, and Sullivan, 59.
David Daglish and Elaine Sullivan
He then smashed 51-year-old Mullen's Toyota Hilux under another lorry before continuing on the road - leaving three others hurt.
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."
Speaking after the sentencing, Sergeant Catherine Iley, from Durham Constabulary, said: “This was a truly harrowing incident for everyone involved and our thoughts remain with the family and friends of Elaine, David, and Paul.
“They have shown great dignity throughout the course of this investigation and have assisted wherever they can, all while trying to come to terms with the loss of their loved ones in such devastating circumstances.
“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.”
Iley says that the case serves as a “dreadful warning” of what can happen when drivers use a mobile phone or device while behind the wheel of a vehicle.
“Irrespective of the purpose of that use, they are a distraction and as shown in this case, that distraction could have devastating and wide-reaching consequences,” she added.