NI mum’s eight-month-old baby and sister killed by driver taking pictures as he drove at 141mph

A drunk Audi driver was taking pictures of his dashboard at 141mph before smashing into a family car and killing an eight month old baby and a 30-year-old aunt on the A1.

Darryl Jason Anderson was behind the wheel of an Audi Q5 on the major route when he was involved in an early hours crash between Chester-le-Street and Durham on May 31, 2024. The horror smash resulted in the tragic deaths of baby Zackary Blades and his auntie, Karlene Warner, who were travelling in a Peugeot being driven by Zackary’s mum, Shalorna Warner.

Shalorna, from Northern Ireland, sustained minor injuries before being taken to hospital for treatment. Karlene was due to start a career as a cabin crew member and had flown into Newcastle Airport before being picked up by Shalorna. That same night, Anderson had flown into the same airport from Antalya after behaving “erratically” with his wife and returning to the UK on his own.

Sharlona Warner, the mother of eight-month-old Zackary Blades speaks to the media alongside Detective Constable Natalie Horner outside Durham Crown Court
Sharlona Warner (right), the mother of eight-month-old Zackary Blades, speaks to the media alongside Detective Constable Natalie Horner outside Durham Crown Court

On Tuesday, Anderson, of Clarell Walk, Thorpe Hesley, Rotherham, appeared at Durham Crown Court to be sentenced for two counts of causing death by dangerous driving. The 38-year-old pleaded guilty to the charges last week.

The court heard that Shalorna Warner went to pick up Karlene Warner from Newcastle Airport in the early hours of the morning. Karlene had returned early from holiday to start work as cabin crew and in the rear of the Peugeot was eight month old Zackary.

Emma Dowling, prosecuting, said that when Karlene was picked up, the family were on their way home to County Durham through Newcastle city centre, and followed a diversion due to A1 works. They later joined the A1(M) near to Washington services.

Ms Dowling said that around the same time, Anderson had flown into Newcastle from Antalya, Turkey, after “acting erratically” on holiday with his wife. He returned to England without her. The court heard that he had been drinking alcohol on the flight and was drunk, but still took the decision to pick up his keys to his Audi from the front desk of the airport.

Ms Dowling said staff at the front desk thought Anderson “smelled of alcohol but didn’t seem drunk”. He also told staff his wife had left him but that he was “going to get another one”.

Karlene Warner, 30, who died along with her eight-month-old nephew Zackary
Karlene Warner, 30, who died along with her eight-month-old nephew Zackary

He then drove off from the airport in his Audi and CCTV showed Shalorna’s Peugeot and Anderson’s Audi crossing the Tyne Bridge minutes apart. Anderson then made his way to the A194 and overshot a junction.

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

The horrifying crash destroyed the Peugeot, with the back of the vehicle being completely crumpled in. A passing lorry driver then saw a distressed Shalorna in the middle of the road. He pulled over as Shalorna told him she “couldn’t find her son”.

The lorry driver tragically found Zachary’s lifeless body on the hard shoulder – the baby had been thrown from the car due to the high-speed impact. Both Zachary and Karlene died at the scene.

Anderson’s Audi had rolled to the hard shoulder and debris was found in a nearby verge, including an empty bottle of vodka, the court heard. When police arrived Anderson said he was “sorry” for crashing into the Peugeot. He was breath tested and was found to be over the alcohol limit.

The court heard that Anderson also appeared uninjured, but was taken to hospital where he refused a blood test claiming to have a fear of needles, despite having tattoos. He then provided a urine sample which confirmed he was over the limit.

Darryl Anderson, who was almost three times over the limit and who took a photo of his speedometer showing 141mph moments before he crashed
Darryl Anderson, who was almost three times over the limit and who took a photo of his speedometer showing 141mph moments before he crashed

Ms Dowling told the court that despite the horrific crash, Anderson seemed “very talkative” and was even “flirting with a nurse” at one point in hospital. In a police interview, Anderson then came up with a bizarre, false story saying he picked up a hitchhiker, who he then let drive. When asked why there was no passenger seatbelt in place, he told officers the hitchhiker had “wrapped it around himself”. Anderson later dropped the fake story and went on to plead guilty at court.

Victim impact statements were also read to the court from family members. Shalorna and Karlene’s father, Nigel Warner, described Anderson as a “wild man driving a killing machine”. He added: “No words can describe how we felt when we received that call from Shalorna. A horrifying, horrendous incident that will stay with her forever.”

In a second victim statement, Karlene’s husband, Kieran, demanded Anderson to look at him from the dock. Anderson’s eyes remained fixed to the floor, with Karlene’s husband shouting “coward” at him.

In a heart wrenching statement, Zackary’s mother, Shalorna, described the unimaginable distress she felt as she looked for her baby among the wreckage as those in the public gallery broke down in tears. She told the court she had to pick her son’s body up from the ground and that the deaths left an “irreparable hole in my heart”.

The court heard Anderson had 10 previous convictions for 12 offences, including drink driving, assaulting an emergency worker, and battery. He was also stopped in Sheffield around a week before the fatal crash and warned about his driving.

Richard Dawson, mitigating, said the case was “tragic”, with the crash having “catastrophic consequences”. He said Anderson has a young daughter who is the “primary focus of his life” and knows he will be absent from her life for a long period of time.

“By his guilty pleas…he accepts he drove dangerously and caused the deaths of both Zackary and Karlene”, he said. “No explanation can be provided by him how this terrible accident occurred.

He said that in all likelihood “the combination of speed, intoxication and distraction of mobile phone” caused the accident. He said Anderson was “not concentrating” and that the defendant is “profoundly sorry” and wants to apologise. He added that “ultimately common sense prevailed” and Anderson decided to plead guilty to try and bring “closure” to the family as soon as possible.

Audi Q5 driven by Anderson, vehicle second right, crossing the Tyne Bridge prior to collision on May 31
Audi Q5 driven by Anderson, vehicle second right, crossing the Tyne Bridge prior to collision on May 31

Sentencing Anderson, Judge Jo Kidd relayed her condolences to the family, thanking them for their statements provided. She said: “They have given me an insight into the precious place they held in your hearts.” She said Karlene was an “exceptional” person and mother, who was excited for her future.

The judge told the court Anderson landed at Newcastle Airport and had drunk a “significant” amount of alcohol on the flight, but picked up his car and intended to drive it back to Yorkshire, a journey of around 200 miles. He began driving in a “thoroughly dangerous and intoxicated manner” over the Felling Bypass.

He also sent WhatsApp messages during the drive, and seconds before the fatal crash took a screenshot of his speedometer. “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”, Judge Kidd said.

She continued: “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”.

The judge added: “You played Russian roulette with every man, woman and child on that journey”. Anderson was jailed for 17 years and three months. He was also banned from driving for 21 and a half years. He must sit an extended re-test if he wants his licence back.

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