A young teacher cheated death in a horrific head-on collision with a French holidaymaker which killed her colleague.

Chemistry teacher Elizabeth Wheeler, 31, from Edinburgh, told the High Court in Inverness yesterday how she desperately swerved her red Peugeot to avoid a camper van which came round a bend on the same side of the road. But the van ploughed into her car, sending it somersaulting along the A9 a few miles south of Thurso, Caithness, on August 16 last year.

Miss Wheeler was giving evidence in the first day of the trial of Frenchman Marc Combe, 61, who denies driving dangerously and causing the death of Dr Kevin Costello, 47.

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Mr Costello, head of science at Wick High School, died instantly in the crash. His widow, Michelle sat in the public benches, often sobbing as she heard the terrible details of the crash.

Miss Wheeler told the court she had just secured a new job in the United States and was going with Dr Costello, who lived in Scrabster, to celebrate with colleagues in Wick.

She described seeing the blue and white camper van ahead of her and then a few minutes later, it came round the bend on the same side of the road as her.

Miss Wheeler said: "It all happened so fast. I don't know if I had time for any thought processes, I just reacted. I pulled the steering wheel to the right because there was more road there and a ditch on our side. I must have thought I could get round it. But there was an instant collision. There was an impact and the car flipped over.

"I tried to look for Kevin but couldn't see him. I shouted for him but there was no response. Then I started shouting for help and trying to get out of the car. But I was trapped and couldn't undo the seat belt. I felt I was in there for years and then some people came to help."

Miss Wheeler suffered a fractured elbow, requiring two operations and a broken collar bone which also required surgery. Glass embedded in her eye was only removed in April.

She said she was unable to take up her post in America but had since secured a new job in North Carolina, where she currently works.

Miss Wheeler told Combe's advocate, Shahid Latif, she could not be 100% sure she had not drifted over the white lines.

However, she added: "My recollection is that I did not. I had no reason to.

"I tried to swerve on to the wrong side because it was our only chance of survival."

Ambulance technician Gordon Nicol, 41, from Thurso told the court he and a colleague arrived at the scene five minutes after the callout and confirmed that Mr Costello was dead.

He added: "The vehicle was mangled, in pieces, and Miss Wheeler was upside down in the vehicle.

"We waited for the Fire Brigade to release her and then took her to hospital for treatment to her injuries."

The trial, before Lord Bannatyne, continues.