A motorist from Fife who drove stoned on cannabis has been jailed for causing the death of a heroic nurse who was cycling to work in an ICU during the Covid pandemic.
Douglas Toshack, 51, from Kelty, was more than two times over the legal limit for driving with cannabis when he struck James Harrison with his Mercedes flatbed truck in Edinburgh on June 25 2020.
A jury at the high court in the city heard how Toshack failed to pay attention at the junction of the A772 Gilmerton Road at its junction with Kingston Avenue and Mount Vernon Road.
He failed to see the father-of-two – who had volunteered to work in intensive care during the pandemic – cycling to work at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.
Mr Harrison was in the opposite lane and was heard to shout ‘whoa whoa whoa’ moments before Toshack turned right and struck him.
Toshack’s vehicle then drove over Mr Harrison, who died later in the day at his workplace.
Police later discovered Toshack had 5.1 mics of cannabis per litre of blood – the legal limit is two mics.
Father-of-two Toshack stood trial at the High Court in Edinburgh accused of causing Mr Harrison’s death by dangerous driving.
On Friday afternoon, jurors found him guilty of an alternative charge of causing Mr Harrison’s death by driving without ‘due care and attention’.
They also found him guilty of driving whilst over the legal limit for cannabis.
Lord Sandison deferred sentence for the court to obtain a report about Toshack’s background and he refused a request from defence solicitor advocate Jim Keegan KC to continue his client’s bail.
Lord Sandison told Toshack: “Given the gravity of the offence and the likelihood of a custodial sentence, I am going to remand you meantime.”
Following the jury’s verdict, prosecutor David Dickson submitted a victim impact statement to the court from Mr Harrison’s wife and two children.
Mr DIckson told judge Lord Sandison: “James Harrison was 36-years-old at the time of his death.
“He was a nurse who was working in intensive care at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and at the time of his death was on his way to work.”
Mr Harrison was a lead research nurse in cardiology at NHS Lothian and volunteered in an intensive care unit to support the Covid-19 response.
Professor Alex McMahon, NHS Lothian’s executive director of Nursing, Midwifery and Allied Healthcare Professionals, paid tribute to Mr Harrison after news of his death emerged.
He added: “James was a much loved and well respected member of the NHS Lothian team working as a lead research nurse in cardiology.
“In recent months, James volunteered in our intensive care unit to support the Covid-19 response, demonstrating his enduring commitment, compassion and determination to support both patients and staff.
“James will be truly missed by all the colleagues he worked alongside, and by the wider research community here in Lothian and across Scotland.”
Mr Harrison was also an official for Scottish Athletics and an athlete and team manager at Corstorphine AAC.
Shocked witnesses take the stand
The verdicts came at the end of a four-day trial, which heard how Toshack, a first offender, had spent the early morning working for a traffic management company at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.
His colleague that morning, Jack McDonald, 23, said they parted company around 8.30am and he received a call from his co-worker shortly afterwards.
“He sounded panicked. He really didn’t know how to describe what was going on.
“He said that he had been involved in an accident involving a cyclist and he asked if I could come back.
“He seemed a bit shaken up.”
Taxi driver Ian Thompson ,56, witnessed the collision and said he could see the van driving over Mr Harrison’s body.
Death driver’s evidence
Toshack admitted to smoking cannabis the night before the collision and said he had been taking the drug for the past 30 years.
He said he was on his way to see his sister who he hadn’t seen for months because of the Covid pandemic and had not noticed Mr Harrison in the moments leading up to the collision.
Describing the moments following, he said: “I was completely bewildered. I pulled over at a safe space.
“I got out to see what had happened.
“I saw a cyclist lying on the road. I was in a bit of shock.
“I phoned an ambulance straightaway.”
Lord Sandison disqualified Toshack from driving and he will be sentenced later this year.