The family of a Dromore man killed in a head-on car crash wept silently in court as the driver responsible was jailed for six months.
Imprisoning Mark Johnston (45) and ordering that he serve a further six months on licence, Judge Kevin Finnegan said at Newry Crown Court on Wednesday he had seldom seen such glowing references as those given crash victim James (Jimmy) Boyd.
Father of four, Mr Boyd, from Drumaghadone Road, died when his Mercedes car was involved in a head-on collision with Johnston’s Vauxhall Insignia car, on Dromore’s Banbridge Road, at around 6pm on April 27,2014.
Quoting a victim impact statement, the judge said Laura, eldest daughter of the “extremely popular and loved” 54-year-old cattle dealer, wrote “whatever sentence is imposed on the driver will be temporary but the sentence on all who knew him (Mr Boyd) will be a life sentence” .
At an earlier hearing Johnston, from Glen Rise in Belfast, pleaded guilty to causing Mr Boyd’s death by driving carelessly.
Opening the facts on Wednesday, Jackie Orr, prosecuting, said Mr Boyd’s partner, the front-seat passenger, had described how the couple was approaching the A1 carriageway from Dromore when she saw the other car on their side of the road and then “there was a loud bang” as the vehicles collided.
“She nudged Mr Boyd and asked if he was ok but there was no reply,” said Ms Orr, adding that Mr Boyd was pronounced dead at the scene.
She told the court that, according to a forensic engineer, it appeared Johnston’s car had been travelling 28 to 37 mph, there being a 20 mph limit on the exit/entrance road,
Johnston himself admitted his attention had momentarily not been on what was in front of him and Ms Orr said the forensic engineer believed that as a result of Orr’s speed the car had under-steered and, when he put the brakes on, a fault in the ABS system had caused the wheel to lock and the car to skid into the oncoming lane.
Johnston’s Vauxhall was said to have been in otherwise good condition while Mr Boyd’s Mercedes “was maintained in excellent condition.”
Aware, she said, that Mr Boyd’s family and friends were in court, Ms Orr didn’t fully open the findings of the post mortem examination, save to say that “the cause of death were fractures of the spine consistent with a road traffic collision.”
Arrested and interviewed, Johnston first claimed the Mercedes had been in his lane so he had “braked heavily but couldn’t avoid a collision.”
In his third and final interview, when statements had been put to him, “he made no comment,” Ms Orr told the court, adding that his guilty plea had been “of considerable solace to the family.”
It was the Crown’s view, she said, that Johnston’s excessive speed brought the case “close to dangerous driving” but that in any event, his past relevant convictions, including careless driving, aggravated the offence.
Defence QC Arthur Harvey said Johnston had expressed genuine remorse but “will have to live with the fact that he killed a fellow human being for the rest of his life,”. He said that during police interviews Johnston had asked for a break “because the face of the deceased was constantly before his mind and he couldn’t concentrate due to the anxiety that was causing him.”
He further revealed that under instruction from an off-duty, pregnant nurse who stopped to help, Johnston and his brother had tried to resuscitate the critically injured Mr Boyd after the defendant himself had called emergency services.
“The narrative of everyone’s life is unique to them,” said Mr Harvey. “Nothing we can do in this court and nothing that the defendant can do will ever repair the damage he caused by what happened that day.”
Jailing Johnston and banning him from driving for five years, Judge Finnegan said he felt he had “no alternative but to impose an immediate custodial sentence.”
Speaking outside the court shortly after the hearing, Mr Boyd’s ex-wife Elizabeth and three of his children, Mark, Laura and Julie, said they were “relieved” at the sentence as “there’s an element of justice to it.”
“If we had left here today and the person drove up the road in front of us it would be very hard to deal with that but at least we know that tonight he is behind bars and there’s some justice,” said Julie, “I’m just so happy that he isn’t walking away today;I don’t think I could cope with that.”
Asked how they had, in fact, managed to cope, she said: “Coping isn’t even a word I would use.”
“Daddy was a generous man and very funny man,” she added. “He was the go-to person, he was the fixer in the family and he was constantly in contact; there wasn’t a day went by that he wasn’t on the phone.”
If anything good was to come of what they had had to endure, Elizabeth said she wanted other drivers “to think about the long-term implications of driving, not only too fast, but being prepared to stop if necessary. This death was caused at under 40 miles per hour.”