Driver killed mum-of-three after inhaling nitrous oxide at the wheel and ‘passing out’ – before cowardly fleeing the scene

A teenage driver high on cocaine killed a mum-of-three after smashing into her outside a Wigan pub. Jacob Gaskell, who also injured two other pedestrians when he mounted the pavement in Ormskirk Road, Pemberton, had been inhaling laughing gas from a balloon at the wheel of his Land Rover Freelander before the hit-and-run crash.

The incident happened on the evening of April 8 – the day before Gaskell’s 19th birthday and just two months after he was handed a suspended sentence for a previous dangerous driving offence. Cowardly Gaskell then fled the scene on foot as 44-year-old teacher Laura Hazeldine lay dying outside pub Number 15.

Gaskell, of Marlbrough Avenue, Ince, has been jailed for nine years at Bolton Crown Court. He will also be banned from driving for a further 10 years upon his eventual release from prison.

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Prosecution barrister Rachel Woods told the court that Gaskell had picked up a number of passengers in Garswood and was driving to Pemberton. One of the passengers said that Gaskell’s driving was originally fine but then he started speeding and going through red lights.

The nature of his driving was so dangerous that one of the passengers asked to get out of the car – which Gaskell ignored. Gaskell then asked front seat passenger Matt Valentine for a nitrous oxide balloon and after initially refusing, Mr Valentine agreed.

Laura Hazeldine was killed in the collision

Gaskell held the balloon in his mouth as he drove and other drivers on the road at the time described seeing Gaskell attempt an overtaking manoeuvre but instead mounted the pavement and smashed into three pedestrians, before hitting the pub wall and a lamp post.

Two of the pedestrians were twin brothers Jack and Ben Atherton. Ben was launched into the air and a witness described seeing him ‘somersault three times’ before landing on the ground. His spine was fractured, he suffered a bleed on the brain and had serious injuries to his kidney. Jack suffered relatively minor injuries but Ben was also due to start basic training for the Army and due to the nature of his injuries, this has been postponed.

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Laura Hazeldine, lived in St Neots, Cambridgeshire, but had been visiting her family. She suffered catastrophic injuries in the collision and her sister de ella Rachel, who witnessed it through the pub window, ran outside de ella to stroke her face and hair as she fought for her life de ella. She was rushed to the Royal Albert Edward Infirmary and numerous attempts were made to resuscitate her but she died.

Police officers arrested Gaskell at his brother’s home and took a sample of blood. Toxicology reports showed that he would have taken cocaine prior to the crash.

He gave a no comment interview but pleaded guilty at the first opportunity to six offences:

  • Causing death by dangerous driving
  • Causing death by dangerous driving while disqualified
  • Causing death by dangerous driving while unlicensed
  • Causing death by dangerous driving while uninsured
  • Causing serious injury by dangerous driving
  • Driving while disqualified

The police scene in Ormskirk Road, following the collision
The police scene in Ormskirk Road, following the collision

Gaskell also admitted to breaching his suspended sentence, which was imposed after he stole a delivery driver’s van and sped off from the scene, almost hitting the driver as he tried to get back in the vehicle.

Laura’s mum Gillian Webster read out a moving victim impact statement in court. She said: “She was a loving, kind person.

“Her children were her world and she would spend many hours making their world enjoyable and special. Always wanting her children to do well, she was their rock.

“John (one of her children) needed her to do everything that he found hard to do because he is a young adult with severe special needs. She would boost his confidence and communication skills and would lean on her.

“For many years Laura looked after her dad, transforming her home to accommodate his needs. He recently became ill and needs her constantly.

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“Rachel and her only sister were inseparable from childhood to adulthood, sharing and raising their children, enjoying family get-togethers as they were doing on the night my beautiful daughter was taken from us all.

“She touched everyone’s life who she met; from friends to schoolchildren, she was loved by the school staff and the children. Laura’s life was working hard and being the best mum, daughter, sister, work colleague and teacher, while studying for her degree in mathematics.”

Floral tributes left for Laura Hazeldine
Floral tributes left for Laura Hazeldine

Addressing Gaskell, who had his head in his hands throughout the hearing as he appeared via a video link from jail, Mrs Webster added: “Your actions have devastated our family and we will never recover from the loss. We will never get Laura back.

“I hope you learn your lesson and spend time thinking and reflecting on your actions and you never put another family through the heartache and sorrow that you have caused our family.”

Defense barrister Andrew Nuttall said: “Nothing I say now is meant to diminish the tragedy or the hurt caused by the defendant. Nor am I going to give any excuses for his behaviour.”

Mr Nuttall asked the judge to take Gaskell’s early guilty plea into account, along with his age, and his remorse. He also told the court that a psychiatrist has diagnosed Gaskell with emotionally unstable personality disorder.

Making reference to a pre-sentence report, Mr Nuttall told the court that Gaskell said he had ‘passed out’ after inhaling the nitrous oxide at the wheel of the car.

Jailing Gaskell for nine years, Judge Tom Gilbart said: “You’ve never held a driving licence, you don’t know how to drive a car. It shows breathtaking arrogance and irresponsibility that you would get behind the wheel of the car in those circumstances.

“This is an absolutely appalling set of offenses. You showed an arrogant and selfish disregard for the rules of the road.

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“You had taken drugs before you drove, you took drugs as you drove, you were uninsured, you were unlicensed, you were disqualified from driving, you were subject to a suspended sentence, you were warned about your behavior by your passengers and you didn’t ‘t seem to care a jot.

“You ploughed into three completely innocent victims, changed numerous lives and caused the death of a much-loved and much-missed woman.”

Laura Hazeldine (inset) with tributes left outside the Number 15 pub
Laura Hazeldine (inset) with tributes left outside the Number 15 pub

Following the hearing, police constable Oliver Batty, of GMP’s Serious Collision Investigation Unit (SCIU), said: “No sentence will ever reflect the loss of Laura, in what can only be described as horrific circumstances. I hope that today’s hearing provides some answers for her family de ella, her loved ones, and the wider community, as they try to rebuild their lives. I thank Laura’s family for their continued grace and dignity of her throughout this extremely difficult process.

“At the time of the collision, Jacob Gaskell was on a suspended sentence for dangerous driving, he was disqualified, uninsured – having never taken a driving test – and he was under the influence of cocaine and nitrous oxide. He was fully aware of the risks that he was taking that night however this did not determine him, and he continued to drive.

“Gaskell’s actions were selfish, reckless and the result was completely avoidable. The actions he made on that evening are taken on a daily basis by too many people on the roads of Greater Manchester. This tragedy shows just how dangerous and real the consequences can be.

“I hope this investigation sends a direct message to communities across Greater Manchester that the Serious Collision Investigation Unit will work tirelessly to bring justice to those who risk people’s lives on the road and, in tragic cases such as this, we will do all that we can to provide answers and closure that families and loved ones need at such a devastating time.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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