A JUDGE has warned young drivers about the dangers of using cars for ‘thrill-seeking’ after the tragic case of a show-off motorist whose dangerous driving left one person dead and another seriously injured.

Carlisle teenager James Stephenson Cooper, 18, deliberately drove over at humpback bridge at more than 80mph because he wanted to make his VW Polo airborne, the city’s crown court heard. But Cooper, who passed his driving test only a few weeks earlier, lost control.

The resulting crash, near Rockcliffe village north west of Carlisle, claimed the life of 17-year-old Gavin Helps.

Another teenager suffered multiple injuries but survived.

Cooper pleaded guilty to causing Mr Helps’ death by dangerous driving, and to causing serious injury to a second teenager - another back seat-passenger - by dangerous driving.

The tragedy happened just after 5pm on September 22 last year as Cooper drove along Rockcliffe Road with three friends in his car. As he approached the bridge - which had a sign displaying a 30mph speed limit - he said to his passengers: “Do you want to get some airtime?”

It was a reference to making the car airborne - something he had done at the same place six days earlier. As he crested the bridge his speed was 82mph, the court heard. The car lifted 2ft off the road and as it landed Cooper lost control. The VW crashed into a field and two trees, rolling and crushing its roof.

Eyewitnesses arrived at a ‘scene of devastation.’ Despite efforts to save him, Mr Helps died at the scene. The badly injured passenger suffered vertebrae fractures and a partially collapsed lung. After the crash, Cooper told one witness: “I just lost it.” He said of Mr Helps: “If he’s hurt I’ll never forgive myself.”

The court heard Cooper, of Beaver Road, Belle Vue, was “showing off” in the days before the crash, at one point driving up Stanwix Bank in Carlisle at 70mph. One witness said he drove like a ‘boy racer’.

Mark Shepherd, defending, said: “He’s struggling to come to terms with the guilt he will have to live with for the rest of his life.” The lawyer added that Cooper - said to be immature - had not set out to hurt anybody.

In a victim personal statement, Mr Helps’ heartbroken mother Claire described her son as “gentle, caring, and loving.” His father had died when he was 14, and Gavin - who loved music, cycling, and computers - had given fantastic support to his mother, making her proud.

Judge Nicholas Barker sent Cooper to a Young Offenders’ Institution for 35 months and banned him from driving for five years and five months. He will have to take an extended retest.

The judge said: “It was obvious to you, as it would be to simply anybody, that you had absolutely no idea what was on the other side of that bridge. But it was your intention to travel over it with no wheels [contacting] the road surface, and no control whatsoever.The message must go out to young drivers that cars have the potential to cause death and great harm. They must at all times be driven with great care to ensure the safety of passengers and other road users. Above all, cars are not devices for thrill-seeking.”