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Driver jailed for killing two pensioners on A41

a41 fatal 1

9:20am 20th May 2018
(Updated 9:24am 20th May 2018)

A teenage driver who had inhaled laughing gas while driving at speeds of around 80mph, has been jailed for killing two pensioners. 

On 7th May last year, 17-year-old William Thompson had been seen driving with his interior light on and holding a large inflated balloon on the A41 near Berkhamsted at around 11:30pm. 

Witnesses estimated Thompson had been travelling at well above the 60mph speed limit for the three ton van he was driving.

Two victims

76-year-old Jean Malone and 66-year-old Mary Davis, had been travelling back from a weekly bingo club. 

Jean's son, Mark, had picked the two ladies up from the club and were driving along the A41 in a Micra towards Stoke Mandeville, where Mary lived. 

Thompson’s van smashed into the back of his Micra sending it hurtling off the road and onto the verge where it slammed into a tree.

Sadly, Jean and Mary both died at the scene, luckily Mark suffered only minor injuries. 


On Friday (18/05) Thompson, who's now 18-years-old, was jailed for 9 years and 10 months when he appeared at Luton Crown Court and pleaded to two charges of causing death by dangerous driving.

The court heard the impact caused his own van to roll onto its roof and slide a further 134 metres along the carriageway and over 50 small cannisters containing nitrous oxide gas were scattered along the road. 

Prosecutor Timothy Godfrey said when police examined the inside of the van two nitrous oxide cannisters along with a blue balloon and a device known as a “cracker” for transferring the gas into the ballon were found on the dashboard.

He said Thomson’s DNA was discovered from saliva found on the openings to two balloons found in the vehicle.

Mr Godfrey has said:

“He was not in proper control of the vehicle and that was because he was taking nitrous oxide while at the wheel of his van.”

The prosecutor said the substance - which is known as laughing gas or hippy crack - affects the central nervous system, slowing reactions and causing a person to experience feelings of euphoria, dizziness, fits of giggles, drowsiness, loss of muscle control and can affect a person’s judgement.


Other drivers that night saw Thompson’s van veering between the two lanes of the dual carriageway.

Mr Godfrey said motorist Gillian Lacey had reached the junction for Chesham and Berkhamsted when her attention was drawn to the van.

“She estimated it was going at 80mph in the fast lane and saw it swerve from the fast lane and go very close to the car in front in the slow lane,”

Mr Godfrey told the court:

“He had a large inflated balloon in one hand and the the steering wheel in the other.”

What happened

Judge Richard Foster hearing the case was told that Thompson suffered only minor injuries in the crash and when police arrived told the officers: “Something came out.”

The prosecutor went on:

“He said a deer had run out in front of him and he had swerved to miss it and clipped the rear of the Micra.”

But with the discovery of the balloons and gas cannisters as well as the “cracker” accident investigators quickly established he was lying.

The van’s electronic system showed the driver’s foot had been on the accelerator and not the brake at the time of the collision and it’s speed when it struck the Micra would have been in excess of 78 miles per hour.

After his arrest at the scene he was cautioned and replied to the officers:

“Well I haven’t done anything wrong.”

Mr Godfrey said:

“The cause of the collision was his loss of control of the vehicle because he was preoccupied with inflating a balloon with nitrous oxide found in the van.”

He said the process of transferring the gas into the balloon with the aid of the “cracker” would have been an “intricate process”, which a careful and competent driver would not have undertaken while driving.

The court also heard that when Thompson’s mobile phone was examined police investigators discovered a series of photos of him in his car with balloons held to his mouth.

There was also a photo of a speedometer showing the dial at 110 miles per hour.

Families of victims left devastated

Jean’s son Mark who was driving the women home that night has been left suffering anxiety and feelings of guilt.

In a victim impact statement read to the court he said:

“I can’t help but feel it would have been better for everyone if I had not survived.”

Donal Lawler defending Thompson said:

“He did not intend this to happen, but he has had to live with and deal with the consequences of his utterly reckless actions.”

Mr Lawler said Thompson of The Pony Field, Marroway in Weston Turville  has learning difficulties and as a result was finding it “extremely hard” to process what has happened.

He said his client had written a letter expressing his deep sadness for the heartbreak he had caused both families.

“He said he deserves the prison sentence he now faces.

 “He was lacking in consequential thinking, lacking in maturity,” he said.

Passing sentence Judge Foster told Thompson:

“ This is one of the worst cases of dangerous driving there can ever be”

“Those who drive owe a high duty of care to fellow road users.

"You failed miserably in that duty by your decision to drive as you did and take nitrous oxide as you did and inhaling it at the time of the accident.”

He jailed him for nine years and 10 months and banned him from driving for six-and-a-half years.

Nitrous oxide has legitimate uses and is often used in catering aerosol cans.

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