Killer drink-driver's chilling photo moments before crash left baby and aunt dead

Zackary Blades was tragically killed in the crash
-Credit: (Image: Durham Police/PA Wire)

A drink driver who killed a baby and his aunt when driving over 140mph has been jailed. Darryl Jason Anderson was at the wheel of an Audi Q5 when he collided with a Peugeot driven by Shalorna Warner.

Tragically, her eight-month-old son, Zackary Blades, and his 30-year-old aunt Karlene Warner, who was also in the car, died on impact in the devastating crash. Horrifically, moments before the collision, Anderson snapped a photo of his dashboard, which indicated his speed of 141mph.

The vehicle's display also showed a warning of an upcoming obstacle, which turned out to be the family's car that he was about to strike. Almost three times over the legal alcohol limit for driving, Anderson crashed into their car on the A1(M) in the early hours of May 31.

Anderson appeared at Durham Crown Court on Tuesday, July 9, where he faced sentencing for two counts of causing death by dangerous driving, to which he previously pleaded guilty.

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The court heard Karlene was on the brink of embarking on a new career as a cabin crew member and had just arrived at Newcastle Airport before being collected by Shalorna. That same evening, Anderson had landed at the same airport from Antalya after reportedly acting "erratically" with his spouse and returning to the UK solo, as reported by ChronicleLive.

Emma Dowling, prosecuting, detailed the tragic events leading up to the fatal collision, explaining that Karlene and her family were heading home to County Durham through Newcastle city centre, navigating a diversion due to A1 works, before joining the A1(M) near Washington services.

The court was told by Ms Dowling that at around the same time, 38 year old Anderson had returned to Newcastle from Antalya, Turkey, described as "acting erratically" during his holiday with his wife. Despite having consumed alcohol on the flight and being inebriated, Anderson decided to drive his Audi after collecting his keys from the airport's front desk.

Staff at the airport noted Anderson "smelled of alcohol but didn't seem drunk", as per Ms Dowling's account. Anderson also mentioned to the staff that his wife had left him, adding he was "going to get another one" before driving away.

CCTV captured both Shalorna's Peugeot and Anderson's Audi crossing the Tyne Bridge shortly after, with Anderson later veering onto the A194 and missing a junction.

In a shocking revelation, Ms Dowling stated that Anderson was "taking photographs of his dashboard while speeding at 141mph". She said: "After the picture was taken, the defendant collided with the Peugeot. The collision was catastrophic, killing [Zackary and Karlene] instantly."

Sharlona Warner, the mother of eight-month-old Zackary Blades speaks to the media alongside Detective Constable Natalie Horner
Sharlona Warner, the mother of eight-month-old Zackary Blades speaks to the media alongside Detective Constable Natalie Horner

The aftermath of the crash saw the Peugeot obliterated, its rear end utterly crushed. A lorry driver passing by witnessed a distraught Shalorna on the road and stopped to assist, as she frantically expressed that she "couldn't find her son".

The lorry driver made the heart-wrenching discovery of Zachary's lifeless body on the hard shoulder after the infant was ejected from the vehicle due to the force of the high-speed collision. Both Zachary and his mother Karlene were pronounced dead at the scene.

Shalorna, hailing from Northern Ireland, suffered minor injuries and was subsequently transported to hospital for medical attention. The aftermath of the crash left Anderson's Audi on the hard shoulder, with scattered debris including an empty vodka bottle found in the nearby grass.

Upon the police's arrival, Anderson expressed his remorse, stating he was "sorry" for crashing into the Peugeot. A breath test conducted at the scene revealed that he was over the legal alcohol limit.

In court, it was revealed that Anderson appeared unscathed by the accident but was nonetheless taken to a hospital where he declined a blood test, citing a phobia of needles. He later provided a urine sample which confirmed he was above the drink-driving threshold.

Ms Dowling informed the court that despite the severity of the crash, Anderson was "very talkative" and even engaged in flirtatious behaviour with a nurse while at the hospital. During a police interview, Anderson initially concocted a tale about picking up a hitchhiker whom he allowed to drive his car.

Confronted with the question of why the passenger seatbelt was not fastened, he claimed to officers that the hitchhiker had "wrapped it around himself". Eventually, Anderson abandoned this fabricated account and admitted his guilt.

In the aftermath, Shalorna and Karlene's father, Nigel Warner, painted Anderson as a "wild man driving a killing machine", sharing: "No words can describe how we felt when we received that call from Shalorna. A horrifying, horrendous incident that will stay with her forever."

Karlene's husband Kieran also addressed Anderson in court, requesting him to meet his gaze from the dock. However, Anderson kept his stare firmly planted on the floor, prompting Karlene's spouse to label him a "coward".

Distress echoed through the courtroom as Zackary's mother, Shalorna, recalled the harrowing episodes of searching for her young child amid the crash debris, a recollection which brought those in the public gallery to tears. She said to the court, she had to lift her son's lifeless body off the road whilst nursing an "irreparable hole in my heart" from the tragic loss.

The court was informed about Anderson's criminal history which included 10 previous convictions spanning 12 different offences, among them were drink driving, assault of an emergency worker, and battery. It was also revealed he was cautioned in Sheffield roughly a week prior to the devastating accident, concerning his reckless driving.

Richard Dawson, mitigating for Anderson, described the case as "tragic" and acknowledged the "catastrophic consequences" the accident brought onto all parties involved. He portrayed Anderson as a caring parent who prioritises his young daughter, now faced with a reality of being absent from her life for an extended period.

He added: "By his guilty pleas... he accepts he drove dangerously and caused the deaths of both Zackary and Karlene. No explanation can be provided by him how this terrible accident occurred."

He remarked that "the combination of speed, intoxication and distraction of mobile phone" likely caused the catastrophe. He noted Anderson was "not concentrating" and that the defendant is "profoundly sorry" and wishes to extend an apology.

He also mentioned that "ultimately common sense prevailed" leading Anderson to plead guilty in hopes of providing "closure" to the family swiftly.

Upon sentencing Anderson to a term of 17 years and three months in prison, Judge Jo Kidd reflected on the family's statements: "They have given me an insight into the precious place they held in your hearts."

She described Karlene as an "exceptional" individual and mother, who looked forward to her future with enthusiasm.

Judge Kidd informed the court that Anderson had landed at Newcastle Airport and consumed a "significant" quantity of alcohol during the flight, yet decided to drive his car back to Yorkshire, which is approximately a 200-mile trip. His driving over the Felling Bypass was characterized as "thoroughly dangerous and intoxicated manner".

Furthermore, he was busy sending WhatsApp messages while driving and, just seconds before the tragic accident, he took a screenshot of his speedometer. Judge Kidd stated: "It is a chilling image. At the centre of the console is a warning sign, displaying a warning of impending obstacle. That obstacle was the Peugeot driven by Shalorna.

"I do not know why you took that picture... whatever the situation your attention had been further distracted from your driving. Your accelerator pedal was fully depressed at time of impact. Driving at 141mph. The photos of the scene are the stuff of nightmares

"You played Russian roulette with every man, woman and child on that journey."

Anderson was disqualified from driving for 21 and a half years and he will be required to pass an extended re-test if he wishes to regain his licence.

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