It was a tragedy that devastated Peterculter. Two friends were killed and a third – who would later be jailed for their deaths – was left fighting for his life.
Now, in a quiet spot by the River Dee, a memorial bench remains for the “two lovable guys” – Russell Horne and Steven Reid – who lost their lives in an horrific car crash after leaving a birthday party.
As part of our Place to Remember series we’ve spoken to the family of Russell Horne about their boy, and the bench that continues to bring them so much comfort.
A good kid
Russell was born on April 17 1982, “at 10 past six on a Saturday,” says mum Susan Horne, in Aberdeen.
One of four, he attended Culter School then Cults Academy.
A mischievous youngster who “knew all the tricks”, he was a good kid who played snare drum in Culter Pipe Band and was a lifelong Chelsea FC fan.
On April 16 2004 Russell had been at his and his girlfriend’s joint birthday party. Before it was over he got in a car with Steven Reid, the younger brother of his good friend, Gary, and another friend Michael Mason.
Michael, who didn’t have a driving licence and had borrowed a car, wanted to head out from Peterculter to Banchory to see a girl.
‘I don’t want you to go’
In just a few hours from that moment it would be Russell’s 22nd birthday.
Kara Davidson – Russell’s girlfriend – begged him not to go.
“But he obviously didn’t listen,” said Susan.
Russell, who left school at 16 to become a greenkeeper for Aberdeen City Council, particularly liked working at Balnagask and Hazlehead golf courses.
He was in love with his girlfriend, “he just bought her a beautiful chain for her birthday” and was a devoted son, brother and uncle to his sister Sally’s children.
That night, as the party was coming to an end, Russell ignored Kara’s pleas and got into the car with Steven and Michael.
The Vauxhall Vectra they were in crashed head on with a bus and burst into flames on the A93 North Deeside Road, near Drumoak, just before midnight.
Susan recalls the moment she found out her son had died.
“The door went and it was Kelly, one of my daughters, who answered it. It was the police and so she came and got me.
“They came in and just said, almost right away, Russell has been killed in an accident.
“You take a minute to sort of process it. They said him and Steven had been killed instantly and Michael was thrown from the car out the window so he was alive but in a terrible condition.”
‘I wanted to see him’
Police went on to explain that they believed the boys had tried to swerve to avoid the Banchory bus.
“I couldn’t take it in. When we found out, it was actually our Russell’s birthday,” she said.
“I just kept thinking I need to see him, but the police kept telling me ‘no’.
“I know now he was too badly damaged in the fire but I’m his mum and just wanted to see my boy.”
All of Culter grieved
The reality of what happened devastated Culter.
Sally, one of Russell’s older sisters said: “It wasn’t just the boys who were all friends, all the mums – mine, Steven’s and Michael’s – were all friends too.
“It’s a small place. So this sent massive shock waves through Culter.”
One week after the accident a double funeral was held at Aberdeen Crematorium to celebrate the lives of Russell and Steven.
Russell’s birthday presents were with him in his coffin.
“It was some funeral. Police had to direct the traffic,” said Susan.
Around 1000 people gathered to pay their last respects to the boys. Michael was still in hospital.
Their favourite songs, Yellow – by Coldplay, and Missing You – by Puff Daddy and Faith Evans were played.
“I remember looking round and seeing all the young ones there. All in their suits. They looked so smart. I almost forgot for a second because they made me so proud. Then it came crashing back. They were dressed like that for Russell and Steven’s funeral.”
Driver in court
In the aftermath of the accident Michael admitted causing the deaths of Russell, 21, and Steven, aged 19, by driving the car dangerously and too fast.
He also admitted driving without insurance, L-plates and a qualified driver beside him.
The Crown accepted his plea of not guilty to driving while under the influence of alcohol.
But before that he visited Susan at home.
‘I still don’t hate him’
“Yeah, when he got out of hospital he came to see me. He stood outside and I asked him to come in. He said he was sorry. I believed him.
“I don’t hate him. Even now. But I am still angry with him.
“They were all just boys. It was a stupid thing to do. I suppose it could have been any combination of them… but there’s still anger.”
Michael was jailed for five years.
“He was out in about half of that,” Sally said. “But no amount of time brings the boys back.”
Though he expressed remorse he was back in the dock in 2017 admitting driving at 109mph on the A96.
Mason, then 35, confessed to breaking the 70mph speed limit and was ordered him to pay a £600 fine and was banned from driving for 12 months.
“That was upsetting. I would have hoped he would have learned from killing Russell and Steven,” said Sally.
“It’s not like we can ever forget.”
Nearly two decades since
The pain of losing Russell is still an everyday reality, even as they approach 20 years since his accident, next spring.
“Kelly – his sister – is still angry, upset and really is the one who has never been able to move past it,” said Susan. “I think if it wasn’t for having Sally’s kids, my grandkids, I’m not sure I would have ever got over it.
“I remember coming home and clearing out Russell’s room. He shared a room with his brother Grant. I just went into mum mode as much as possible. I wanted to shield Grant and my other kids as much as I could. It’s an odd thing to remember but I sent his fancy clothes went to Romania.”
For Sally, precious memories of the week before Russell’s death still bring comfort.
“He had gone into town to Build a Bear with Caitlin, my daughter. The outfit he bought she still has on the bear today. He bought me this Rasmus in the Shadows single as well.
“Then on the Saturday he had come with me to Asda for shopping and paid for the kids to have their faces painted.
“I’m still grateful for whatever prompted that because in the days after the accident I had to drive past the crash spot to drop my kids at nursery. It was awful but I had this fresh memory of being with Russell just days earlier.”
A place to remember Russell and Steven
Several tributes were established to remember the boys but one – a memorial bench on Lovers’ Walk, Culter, is still a source of comfort for the family.
Near to where Russell’s ashes are scattered they still gather at the bench on special occasions.
“We were there for his 40th, and we’ll be there at Christmas. I do feel close to him there, I do,” said Susan.
The family also updated Russell’s Chelsea scarf, tied around a tree near to the accident location outside Drumoak.
“It was about time really, a bit of a 40th birthday present. That and his favourite Walnut Whips,” smiled Susan. “See,” she adds, “for a second there I can laugh, but even now all it will take is Puff Daddy to come on the radio and it’s 20 years ago.”