Belfast Telegraph

Friday 22 August 2014

Teenage driver gets community service over pal’s crash death

A judge has called for an urgent review of the driving test after a 19-year-old man crashed on a narrow country road at night and killed his front seat passenger.

Michael McWhinney had only passed his test five months earlier.

He appeared at Fermanagh Court yesterday and admitted causing the death of his 17-year-old friend Mark Watters by driving carelessly.

He was given 200 hours of community service and banned from driving for three years. He will also have to resit the driving test.

Passing sentence District Judge Liam McNally said it appeared to him that the case “demonstrates the failings of the present test system in ensuring the ability of young drivers to drive during the hours of darkness on narrow country roads”.

“This should be reviewed by the authorities as a matter of urgency,” he said. He had heard how at 9pm on March 26 last year, McWhinney, from Clabby Road, Clabby, was driving a Fiat Seicento along the Derrylin Road, Lisnaskea. At the time it was dark and there were no street lights.

The prosecuting counsel told the court that McWhinney was an “R” driver who had only passed his test five months earlier.

As he travelled towards Lisnaskea he lost control of the car at a bend and it mounted the grass verge and hit a tree. The passenger side took the full impact and Mr Watters, who was sitting in the front passenger seat, sustained multiple injuries and died.

The judge said the failure of experts to identify the cause of the collision and determine the speed involved left him in some difficulty in assessing the standard of McWhinney’s driving.

“I have concluded from the evidence before me that the defendant was travelling at a speed which was too great to safely negotiate this bend, particularly taking into account his limited driving expertise, and that an oversteer is these circumstances caused the accident,” he added.

Earlier defence barrister Ian Turkington acknowledged there was nothing that could be said that would assuage the hurt felt by the Watters family, many of whom were present in court.

He said McWhinney had difficulty sleeping and could not live with the guilt of causing the death of his best friend.

The judge said he had received a letter from the family and said no-one that read it could fail to be affected by the suffering they have undergone since Mark’s death.

“At the end of the day, after a great deal of thought, I have concluded that the appropriate sentence is a community service order of 200 hours, the maximum being 240 hours,” he stated.

Speaking afterwards, the Watters family said: “We are just not happy with the outcome.”

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