A BRORA driver’s "momentary lack of attention" caused an accident in which a motor biker and his wife suffered "appalling" injuries a court heard.
Ryan MacDonald (24), Moray Terrace, lost control of his car after a child passenger in the rear seat complained of feeling ill.
The south-bound vehicle crossed into the opposite carriageway on the A9 just north of the Dornoch Bridge and collided head on with a motorbike driven by Garry Stagg, whose wife Hilda was riding pillion.
The couple, who had been heading to Thurso to visit their son, both had to have a leg amputated and suffered numerous other life-changing injuries.
MacDonald and his young passenger escaped unscathed. Both vehicles, which were travelling at around 50mph at the time, were damaged.
Prosecutor Gary Aitken said: "The consequences (of the accident) have been truly appalling and I can scarcely recall dealing with a case of more significant injuries, short of these resulting in a fatality."
MacDonald,who works as a postman, was fined £335 and had his licence endorsed by six penalty points when he appeared at Tain Sheriff Court yesterday to admit driving without due care and attention.
Sheriff Chris Dickson said: "The law requires sentence to be based on the degree of culpability of driving and not the severe consequences that occurred.
"I accept this was a minor lapse of concentration but the moment was an important one and resulted in an extremely fast, head-on collision with a motorbike.
"It is not competent for me to award compensation but Mr and Mrs Stagg will be able to seek damages in another forum."
The accident happened at around 4.40pm on Friday, July 14. Police were at the scene some 10 minutes later.
Procurator fiscal Mr Aitken said: "Police spoke to the accused at the locus and he readily accepted that as a result of his not paying full and proper care, his vehicle clipped the nearside verge and he overreacted, crossing the road at an angle and colliding with the motorbike."
Motorbike driver Mr Stagg (66) was taken to hospital and placed in a medically induced coma for several weeks during which time it was not certain he would survive.
His right leg had to be amputated at the hip and he had to have a tracheotomy. He suffered multiple fractures as well as abdominal injuries. He is still unable to move his arms or leg.
Mrs Stagg had to have her right leg amputated above the knee and also suffered multiple fractures as well as a collapsed lung. She was recently discharged from hospital to a rehabilitation facility.
Mr Aitken continued: "The impact on their lives cannot be overestimated but the law requires my Lord to sentence on the basis of the accused’s driving not the consequences of this collision."
Defence agent Shahid Latif said MacDonald had been checking on the welfare of his rear seat passenger and had a "momentary lack of attention".
The lawyer said: "This is an individual who has no previous convictions other than an endorsement on his licence – a fixed penalty and fine of £100. There is no suggestion his driving was aggravated by excessive speed.
"He is of good character as exemplified by his lack of record and the two character references submitted on his behalf.
"It is clear that he is held in high regard and he is supported in court today by two senior officers."
The court was told that if MacDonald lost his licence, he would lose his job as a postman and it would also affect his family.
"His ability to provide for his family is directly linked to his ability to remain on the road as a driver," said Mr Latif.
"My submission to the court is that this falls below the level in the spectrum that would attract a period of discretionary disqualification and could be dealt with by an appropriate number of penalty points."
Sheriff Dickson told MacDonald: "The consequences of this accident have been truly appalling for Mr and Mrs Stagg who sustained life changing injuries as a consequence of your driving and I have every sympathy for them."