A surgeon whose momentary lapse of concentration at the wheel caused a fatal head-on crash in which a woman died escaped a prison sentence yesterday. 

Alexander McAuslan was banned from driving and ordered to carry out unpaid work in the community after a judge said that a custodial sentence was not in the public interest.

The respected doctor’s Land Rover Discovery Sport was seen “drifting across” into the oncoming lane before it crashed into Rodica Pamphilon’s Ford Fiesta near Fordel Mains, Midlothian, on 5 August last year.

Romanian-born Mrs Pamphilon, 46, who lived in Ormiston, East Lothian, died from serious head and chest injuries in the smash on the A68 Edinburgh to Lauder road.

McAuslan, 65, of Edgehead, Dalkeith, Midlothian, admitted driving without due care and attention or without reasonable consideration for others, failing to pay proper attention to the road in front of him, crossing onto the opposing carriageway and colliding with the Fiesta.

Euan Dow, defending, told the High Court at Livingston that the accused’s driving on his way home from work at Borders General Hospital had been without fault until a very short distance before the fatal crash.

He said: “The left hand bend had not long commenced before the collision occurred. It would appear that a very few seconds of attention, however inexplicable, were involved. For some reason the accused has failed to react to a gentle deviation to the left then failed to react to the imminent impact with the deceased’s motor vehicle. 

“It’s Mr McAuslan’s position – and has been from the outset – that he has no recollection at all of the collision and the moments immediately preceding it. He’s unable to provide any explanation as to why he did not successfully negotiate the left hand bend.

“The circumstances do not suggest this is case where the accused fell asleep. He was not tired, he was not overworked. All witness statements suggest he was driving appropriately with the exception of those few seconds which clearly led to the tragic circumstances.”

Mr Dow said the accused had been seriously injured in the crash and didn’t regain consciousness until he was in hospital being treated for broken ribs and a broken ankle.

He added: “He acknowledges impact his conduct has had on the family of the deceased.  He’s had years of dealing with family members of those with life threatening and life changing injuries.

“I hope that, notwithstanding the tragic consequences of the accused’s driving on the occasion in question, there’s an appropriate alternative to custody in this case.”

Passing sentence, Judge Lord Burns told McAuslan: “The reason for the obvious lapse of concentration which caused your car to drift over to the opposing carriageway and collide with (Mrs Pamphilon’s) car remains wholly unexplained. There is no suggestion, however, of excessive speed.

“The occupants of the cars behind you saw nothing abnormal in the manner of your driving, there is no indication or evidence before me to show that your attention was distracted by the use of any device such as a mobile phone and the Crown have accepted the deletion that you fell asleep.

“Significantly in this case it is also accepted that the inattention that caused this tragic accident lasted only a few seconds.

“You’ll have to live with the consequences of ending another person’s life. Nothing you can do – and nothing this court can do – can bring comfort to Mrs Pamphilon’s family”.

He sentenced McAuslan to carry out 275 hours of unpaid work within nine months and banned him from driving for three years and nine months.
Members of Mrs Pamphilon’s family watched from the public gallery as Lord Burns passed sentence but declined to comment. 

Outside court the retired orthopaedic surgeon, who initially told police he might have fallen asleep at the wheel, admitted that he was still bewildered about what had caused the head on crash.

He said: “It was the most awful accident. You spend your life tending people who’ve been in accidents and putting them back together. You try to save people and you think you’ve done well. I mean what if the corner had turned the other way? I’d have bumped into the verge.

“What if it had been 10 seconds earlier, 10 seconds later. Two seconds earlier, one second even. What if, what if, what if? 

“You can’t undo it.”