A 29-year-old Co Antrim man who lost control of his car and crashed into a tree after consuming drink and drugs was starting a 12-month jail term on Tuesday.
Matthew Dean Whitley, an accounts analysis from Sharonmore Green in Newtownabbey, made a “horrific error of judgement” and got behind the wheel after attending a party.
Belfast Crown Court heard that despite consuming eight or nine beers, a line of cocaine and “possibly cocktails”, when the party host threw everyone out, Whitley drove his car with two female passengers on board.
After leaving the party on the Doagh Road in the early hours of April 12, 2016, as he was driving along the Ballyduff Road, Whitley’s car hit a grass verge. He lost control of the vehicle, which then struck a tree.
The backseat passenger - who the court heard was and continues to be a friend of Whitley’s - sustained serious injuries in the collision, including extensive facial lacerations which required stitches and staples. She also suffered damage to her neck bone and had to wear a brace for 12 weeks.
Crown prosecutor Philip Henry said that when police arrived at the scene at around 4am, Whitley was administering First Aid to his girlfriend, who was a front seat passenger and who was also injured.
Mr Henry said Whitley claimed responsibility at the scene of the crash, where he admitted he had been drinking. He failed a road-side breath test, and when a blood sample was taken at hospital, he was found to be driving over the legal limit.
After officers found him to be in possession of two Diazepam tablets that he had no prescription for, a further blood test was carried out to determine the presence of drugs, and “remnants of cocaine” were found in his system.
The prosecutor said that When Whitley was interviewed by police later that year, he made “full and frank admissions and expressed regret and remorse.”
He also told police he had been at a party with his girlfriend and another female friend, that an argument had broken out which prompted the host to kick everyone out, and that instead of waiting for a taxi, he got into his car and drove.
Whitley subsequently pleaded guilty to causing the grievous bodily injury of his friend by careless driving whilst unfit.
Expanding on an explanation about why Whitley got behind the wheel, defence barrister Sean O’Hare said that after being asked to leave the party, Whitley’s girlfriend - who had also been drinking - was initially going to drive, but that Whitley took the key off her and drove himself.
Branding Whitley’s actions as a “hor,rific error of judgement”, Mr O’Hare said: “He is mindful it was his decision on the night in question to behave the way he did. He has lived with the consequences of that decision, right from the moment of impact until now.”
Telling Judge Geoffrey Miller QC that Whitley neither fled the scene nor attempted to deflect responsibility, Mr O’Hare said his client had accepted he made “entirely the wrong decision” to drive.
Mr O’Hare also revealed that whilst Whitley’s friend sustained serious injuries, she has since made a recovery and is “moving on with her life.” The defence barrister concluded by saying his client has “considerably learned his lesson.”
Judge Miller handed Whitley a two-year sentence, telling the trainee accountant that he will serve half the sentence in prison, with the remaining 12 months on supervised licence when he is released from jail. He was also banned from driving for three years.