An inexperienced R driver who knocked down and killed a pensioner because he was going too fast has walked free from court with a suspended jail sentence.
Suspending the 10-month term for two years and imposing an 18-month driving ban on Matthew McKee at Downpatrick Crown Court, Judge Geoffrey Millar QC told the 20-year-old it was clear that by driving at 38-42mph through Newcastle town centre, he was “driving too quickly for the prevailing conditions”.
He also told McKee that had he been adhering to the speed limit of 30mph, “then the collision would not have occurred”.
“A simple moment of inattention can lead to catastrophic results and even life-ending consequences,” said the judge, adding that the death of Geoffrey Cartwright should serve as a warning to everyone who drives, “myself included ... that a car can be an instrument of death and destruction if one allows it and the consequences for drivers, passengers and other road users, as in this case, can be devastating”.
At an earlier hearing McKee, from Meadowlands Avenue in Kilkeel, pleaded guilty to causing the death of Mr Cartwright by driving carelessly on South Promenade in Newcastle on August 24 2017.
Opening the Crown case for the first time on Tuesday, prosecuting QC Richard Weir outlined how 78-year-old widower Mr Cartwright, a retired teacher and father of six, had been in Mackins Bar with his brother Reginald when the pair left at around 10.30 that evening.
Mr Weir told the court the brothers crossed the road directly in front of the bar with Reginald reporting that apart from a set of headlights in the distance, he felt the road was clear.
He managed to get to the other side but having taken a few steps, “he hears a thud behind him” and turned to see “his unfortunate brother lying on his side, facing the wall” having been struck by McKee’s Ford Focus car.
Members of the local RNLI crew had been in the bar and along with an off-duty nurse, they tended to the stricken Mr Cartwright who was rushed to the Royal Victoria Hospital where he died from his injuries.
At the scene McKee “was visibly distressed,” said the lawyer, adding that the R driver had only passed his driving test two months beforehand and that a breath test proved negative.
Both the scene and the Ford Focus car were examined by a forensic expert and Mr Weir revealed that from the forensic report, it was estimated McKee had been travelling between 38-42mph in the lead up to the tragic accident.
The senior lawyer said while the report also highlighted that a parked van “obscured the driver’s view of matters ... that doesn’t exempt the accused”.
“Speed is at the heart of the collision here,” said Mr Weir, adding that “one had to factor in also that this was a young and inexperienced driver”.
Apart from the speed, he told the court there were no other aggravating factors in the case such as McKee being distracted, but that in mitigation was McKee’s clear record and genuine remorse.
He told Judge Millar: “It seems to be the upshot of the report that had he been within the speed limit, this accident in all probability would not have happened and therein lies the tragedy for everyone.”
With Mr Cartwright’s friends and relatives filling one half of the public gallery, Mr Weir said “one can hardly fail but be moved” by the contents of the statements they had made regarding the impact the death of their loved one.
Defence QC Patrick Lyttle said the “thrust of my plea is that a custodial sentence is not required in this case,” given McKee’s guilty plea, his clear record, the lack of aggravating factors, his insight into the consequences for the Cartwright family and his “genuine and heartfelt remorse for causing them such pain”.
Describing digger driver McKee as a “decent, hard working young man” from a respectable family, he submitted that but for this tragedy, he would not find himself in the dock.
Sentencing McKee, Judge Millar said he had received statements from some of Mr Cartwright’s children “and the clear picture that emerges is of the love and affection in which he was held, described as the glue that kept the family together and as the person in whom each person placed their love and confidence in”.
“There can be no doubt that the shock and sudden nature of his death has only added to the sense of grief, and one has a sense that was exacerbated because it deprived those closest to him of the opportunity to say their goodbyes,” said the judge.
In assessing McKee’s level of culpability, the judge said it was clear from the reports that had he not been speeding, the collision either would not have occurred at all or his speed at the point he struck the pensioner would have been around 10mph instead of the estimated 24.
“Clearly he didn’t see the deceased until it was too late and then stood on the brakes,” said Judge Millar, adding there “can be no doubt that his regret for his actions and the consequential death of Mr Cartwright is genuine and heartfelt”.
He said while the custody threshold had been passed, “an immediate sentence of imprisonment is not appropriate” so he was suspending the 10-month term for two years.
Relatives of Mr Cartwright shook their heads and some women wept silently as the sentence was announced but outside, only one man would comment that “ you see the consequences on TV of dangerous driving but that’s the reality in there – you get away with it”.
McKee and his family also declined to comment.