- Zach Spencer, 22, lost control of his car under the influence of nitrous oxide
- Shirley Muirden, 31, who was in the cab, died of a lacerated liver
A motorist who crashed into a taxi after inhaling nitrous oxide, killing a dialysis patient being driven home from hospital, has been jailed for four years.
Zach Spencer lost control of his Volkswagen Scirocco while under the influence of the substance – also known as laughing gas, or ‘hippy crack’ – and drove onto the opposite side of the road, crashing into the taxi driven by Razwan Hussain .
Passenger Shirley Muirden, 31, sustained multiple injuries and died of a lacerated liver, while Mr Hussain sustained multiple leg fractures.
Derby Crown Court has heard that a nitrous oxide canister was found in Spencer’s car by police following the crash, along with balloons used to inhale the gas on the driver’s side.
The 22-year-old had also taken ketamine and had double the legal driving limit of 20 micrograms of the drug per liter of blood in his system.
An accident investigator was told at the hearing that the tragedy was caused by Spencer using substances before driving, which meant he was “unable to control the vehicle.”
In addition to jailing Spencer, who admitted to causing death by dangerous driving, Judge Shaun Smith KC also banned him from the road for 12 years.
He said that although there was a dispute over exactly when Spencer had taken the nitrous oxide, the carpenter accepted that he had inhaled it before getting behind the wheel, adding: ‘That, in my mind, is a significant factor.
“Those who knew and loved Shirley were completely crushed and devastated.”
Nitrous oxide has become increasingly popular as a recreational drug among young people, with spent silver canisters or balloons of the drug becoming an increasingly common plague in community spaces.
In November, Dr David Nicholl, a consultant neurologist at Birmingham City Hospital, told MailOnline: ‘We know that some drivers ‘swell’ when driving.
‘There are several ways it will prevent driving, firstly through hypoxia, lack of oxygen from repeated use, as nitrous oxide itself has a very short time effect, as does distraction itself during driving. guide.
“Finally, short-term disinhibition while laughing under the influence may itself be a factor.”
Driving under the influence of any drug, including nitrous oxide, is already prohibited, possession of nitrous oxide is not illegal.
But in March, the government said it would ban the drug over concerns about antisocial behavior.
Last year the Dutch government banned its sale and possession after the number of road accidents caused by drivers using the drug rose to 1,800 in the previous three years.
It can be difficult to punish drivers who use nitrous oxide because the drug only stays in the body for a short time and cannot be detected in most standard drug tests.
Prosecutor Steven Gosnell said the crash which caused Ms Muirden’s fatal crash occurred at around 11.30pm on 3 June last year when Mr Hussain drove her home from hospital on a stretch of road limit of 50 miles per hour.
Traveling in the opposite direction on the A6 road at Allestree, a suburb of Derby, was Spencer, who had friend Joseph Stewart in the passenger seat.
The court heard that Spencer’s car crossed the roadway and collided with Mr Hussain, making no attempt to brake or take evasive action before doing so.
The Scirocco’s speedometer sat at 42 mph, suggesting that was the speed Spencer was driving at the time.
Although she was able to speak to emergency services at the scene, Ms Muirden died in hospital the following day of her injuries.
Spencer suffered minor injuries, while Mr. Stewart suffered a broken ankle.
Mr. Gosnell said police searched Spencer’s car and found a ziplock bag and found 1.28g of ketamine, as well as the nitrous oxide canister and balloons.
He added: “Matthew Lacey, a forensic collision investigator, said the reason (for the crash) was solely the fault of the driver, Zach Spencer, who had consumed substances, in his opinion, which meant he was unable to properly inspect the vehicle.’
In a statement on the victim’s impact read to the court by the judge, Ms Muirden’s father John said his daughter was “incredible in mind and spirit”.
She added: ‘She was very brave and loved her family. The Christmas table will never be the same. We will always love her.’
Defense counsel Darron Whitehead said Spencer, who also admitted to causing serious injuries through dangerous driving and ketamine possession, had never been in trouble before.
She added: ‘At school he was the perfect student and got good marks in his GCSEs. He is described as a quiet, mild-mannered young man. This was out of character for him.
“He just didn’t appreciate the risks of taking ketamine and inhaling nitrous oxide, let alone driving a car shortly thereafter.”
Spencer, of Belper, was supported in court by his parents, grandparents and brother.
After the hearing Mrs Muirden’s sister, Sheena Muirden, 27, condemned Spencer’s driving.
He said: ‘I understand he wasn’t trying to kill anyone. But I can not forgive stupidity and recklessness. There was no respect for anyone else on the street.
‘Shirley has been so brave in life. She was an inspiration to all who knew her and she continues to be.’
Nitrous oxide is legally available to commercial caterers for use in whipped cream dispensers and other uses.
In 2018, 18-year-old William Thompson was jailed for almost ten years after he killed two women in a collision on the A41 in Hertfordshire after inhaling laughing gas while driving.
More than 50 canisters of nitrous oxide were found on the road after the accident.
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