Young Harborough chef was killed in car crash as two colleagues raced each other home, claim court prosecutors

Zachary Whittall with mum Cathy in December 2013
Zachary Whittall with mum Cathy in December 2013

A young chef was killed in a horrific car crash when two colleagues were racing each other on their way home after a night-shift, a court has heard.

Zachary Whittall, aged 21, of Great Oxendon, near Market Harborough, suffered catastrophic injuries when the Vauxhall Corsa he was in smashed into a tree at 70mph.

It was driven by housemate and fellow chef, Luke Mercieca, 23, who worked with him at the Olive Branch pub restaurant, in Clipsham, Rutland.

A court heard Mercieca crashed while he was racing fellow pub worker Daniel Smith, 26, who was driving a Vauxhall Astra, at 11pm on August 19, 2014.

Mercieca lost control of his car as he travelled along Clipsham Road, near Stretton village, and crashed into a tree at “between 60mph and 70mph”.

Mr Whittall died at the scene.

Mercieca, of Loughborough, and Smith, of Wittering, both deny causing death by dangerous driving.

Prosecutor Matthew Lowe told Leicester Crown Court: “The evidence suggests that moments before the Corsa left the road they were engaged in competitive driving with each other.

“Mercieca was driving behind Smith’s vehicle in excess of the 60 mph national speed limit.

“Mercieca went to overtake Smith.”

He alleged Smith tried to deter that manoeuvre, either by swerving or accelerating, and Mercieca lost control after over-correcting type manoeuvres.

Mr Lowe claimed both men were “acting together and jointly responsible.”

He added: “Smith and his vehicle emerged unscathed but the prosecution case is that it was as much Smith’s driving as Mercieca’s that resulted in the death of Zachary Whittall.”

The court heard that during Smith’s 999 call to the emergency services, at the roadside, he said: “It’s all my fault.”

A recording of the call was played to the jury, including Smith saying another colleague who had just arrived at the scene did not think the front passenger was breathing and saying “The front of the car is smashed up. It’s hit a tree. This is really bad.”

The court heard Smith told a police officer who questioned him at the scene: “He was overtaking me, we’d just come from work.

“I couldn’t let him pass me as I’d just got a new car.”

However, the jury heard he refused to sign the officer’s notebook confirming he made the remark.

Mr Lowe said: “The prosecution say it’s a comment that’s going to be of significant value when you come to consider the cause of the loss of Mercieca’s car.

“The two of them driving in the way they did, in that competitive way, was the reason for the loss of control of Mercieca’s Corsa and, in turn, the collision with the tree and, in turn, the death of Mr Whittall.”

Mercieca was seriously injured and taken to hospital.

A collision investigator estimated the Corsa hit the tree at between 60mph and 70mph.

The trial continues.