Teenage scrambler gets 18 months for killing mother

Flowers left at the spot in Colin Glen where Gary Lewis knocked down and killed Valerie Armstrong
Flowers left at the spot in Colin Glen where Gary Lewis knocked down and killed Valerie Armstrong

A teenager has been jailed for 18 months for causing the death of a mother-of-three hit by a scrambler motorcycle in west Belfast.

Gary Lewis, 18, crashed into Valerie Armstrong as she walked her dog in Colin Glen Forest Park last summer.

Valerie Armstrong had three children aged between five and nine when she died

Valerie Armstrong had three children aged between five and nine when she died

Belfast Youth Court heard he admitted drinking three beers before the collision on a bike later found to have defective brakes.

Witnesses said Lewis, aged 17 at the time, held 35-year-old Mrs Armstrong’s hand and cried uncontrollably as she lay bleeding from fatal injuries.

He has written a personal letter to her family and believed anything other than imprisonment would be disrespectful to them, his lawyers stressed.

Accepting the defendant showed genuine remorse, District Judge George Conner insisted no jail term would ease their anguish.

He said: “Human life, the life of Valerie Armstrong, cannot be restored, nor can its loss be measured by a custodial sentence.”

Lewis, of Colinvale in the Dunmurry area of Belfast, pleaded guilty to causing death by dangerous driving and using a motor vehicle without insurance.

As well as being handed an 18-month term for those offences, he will also serve a further three months of a previously suspended sentence for unrelated matters.

Mrs Armstrong, with children aged between five and nine, died in hospital following the collision on July 19.

Lewis swerved into her on a friend’s scrambler as he tried to avoid hitting her dog in a pedestrian area of the park, the court heard.

The prosecution contended that he had been travelling at between 35-40 mph, while defence lawyers argued that the bike was only doing 20mph.

One of those who ran to the scene of the accident claimed Lewis shouted: “F*** me lads, she’s dead lads, she’s dead. That’s me away.”

Although he told police that he had drunk one tin and two bottles of beer that afternoon, a breath test showed no alcohol in his system.

Prosecution counsel Natalie Pinkerton insisted the bike should never have been ridden in an area frequently used by the public.

She also argued that the teenage defendant was in breach of a suspended sentence imposed on him just weeks before the collision for an offence of riotous behaviour.

Dressed in a shirt and tie and flanked by relatives, Lewis sat head bowed throughout the hearing.

His barrister, John O’Connor, disputed prosecution claims that faulty brakes were a further aggravating feature. The defects could have been caused by the accident, he contended.

Emphasising his client’s early guilty plea, Mr O’Connor said: “He quite clearly indicated that he didn’t want to prolong the anguish for the family of the deceased.”

The court also heard details of Lewis’ own difficult past, including receiving counselling after discovering his father dead in 2006.

The defendant, who has been training to become a barber while in Hydebank Young Offenders’ Centre, has shown genuine remorse, counsel submitted.

He read out a pre-sentence report which stated Lewis did not want to be considered for community service.

“This is a tragic case, there are absolutely no winners in this case whatsoever,” Mr O’Conner added.

Following deliberations, Judge Conner told Lewis: “We hope you have read the statement of (the victim’s) husband, Seamus Armstrong, so you can have some understanding of the harm you have done to this family.”

He continued: “You rode a motorcycle on a pedestrian pathway in an area of parkland, this was a place where pedestrians should be able to walk free from concerns about motor traffic.”

But although Lewis’ inexperience was held to be a major contributing factor, it was acknowledged that he remained at the scene of the collision and made immediate admissions.

Imposing an 18-month term for the offences and disqualifying him from driving for five years, Judge Conner added: “We have read your letter, we believe it’s a reflection of your remorse and we take into account your youth.”