Attorneys and judges in Telemark have been wrestling with a particularly difficult case of attempted suicide that went very wrong indeed. Now the 21-year-old man who tried to kill himself faces 16 years in prison for driving head-on into another car, killing the father who was driving and seriously injuring other family members as well.
Prosecutors have asked the court to convict the young man of pre-meditated murder, following the head-on collision he caused on the E18 highway between Tønsberg and Skien last winter. “This case is about … whether the defendant should have understood that someone most probably could die or be severely injured when he drove onto the E18 highway in the wrong direction,” prosecutor Vibeke Gjøslien Martins said when the 21-year-old’s trial concluded just before the weekend.
‘Just wanted to die’
Newspaper Aftenposten has reported how the defendant had made it clear he wanted to die even before he left a friend in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day in January. The friend called police and warned them that a drunk, suicidal driver in a grey Toyota wanted to kill himself. Police forwarded the report to all patrol cars in the vicinity but the fatal crash had already occurred.
A psychologist testified at last week’s trial, according to Aftenposten, that the defendant had also said he intentionally steered his own vehicle straight into the oncoming headlights of the car containing a family of five from Skien: “He had no thought that anyone was behind the lights, and viewed suicide as the only solution to his intense suffering.” The 21-year-old, who survived the crash with a broken jaw, had reportedly managed to scramble up to the roof of his own wrecked vehicle, where witnesses arriving at the scene found him appearing angry that he was still alive. “He kept repeating that he had done this intentionally and that he just wanted to die,” the witness testified.
Instead the 47-year-old father of three, an engineer at ABB, was killed instantly. His 37-year-old wife and a five-year-old daughter were critically injured while two sons aged seven and 11 months suffered more minor injuries. Prosecutor Martins called the father’s death “the result of an unusually reckless and wanton act. The dead father and his family are innocent victims. They had no means of escape.” They were driving home to Skien late that fateful night after landing at Oslo’s main airport at Gardermoen following a holiday trip abroad.
No legal precedent in Norway
Neither Martins nor defense counsel has been able to find any legal precedent because Norwegian courts have never dealt with such a case. The case also highlights not only suicide, long a sensitive subject in Norway, but also the use of vehicular suicide. State broadcaster NRK has reported that it’s believed to have been behind at least 182 cases of fatal head-on collisions in Norway over the past 10 years. In most cases, however, those committing suicide usually drive into fixed objects or large trucks on two-lane roads, with the truck drivers generally avoiding serious physical injury, although many are traumatized for life.
While the defendant has admitted to driving while drunk, he denies he’s guilty of premeditated murder or even manslaughter. He claims he had to intention of killing anyone else but himself.
That’s difficult for the family to accept, and their court-appointed lawyer, Christian Lundin, has claimed that the 21-year-old’s refusal to accept blame is an extra burden on them. Lundin is demanding NOK 2.35 million in compensation for the surviving family members. “This is an incomprehensibly serious act that has shattered an entire family,” Lundin stated in court.
Defense attorney Jon Anders Hasle argued that it’s very difficult to understand a person who’s focused only on killing himself. “He had a form of tunnel vision and only limited possibility to evaluate the consequences of his decision,” Hasle said.
His client has been held in custody even since the fatal collision. Prosecutors also want to revoke his driver’s license for life. A verdict is expected later this month.