Belfast Telegraph

Driver who hit tree after drink and drug binge at party jailed

By Ashleigh McDonald

A Co Antrim man who lost control of his car and crashed into a tree after consuming drink and drugs has been handed a 12-month jail term.

Matthew Dean Whitley, an accounts analyst from Sharonmore Green in Newtownabbey, made an "horrific error of judgment" 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 29-year-old Whitley drove his car with two female passengers on board.

After leaving the party on Doagh Road in the early hours of April 12, 2016, he was driving along the Ballyduff Road when his vehicle hit a grass verge.

He lost control and struck the tree.

The back seat passenger - a friend of Whitley's - sustained serious injuries in the collision.

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 the front seat passenger.

Mr Henry said Whitley claimed responsibility at the scene, 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.

The blood test also showed remnants of cocaine in his system.

When Whitley was interviewed by police he made "full and frank admissions and expressed regret and remorse."

He 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 ask everyone to leave, 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 while unfit.

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 Whitley took the key off her and drove himself.

Branding Whitley's actions as an "horrific error of judgment", Mr O'Hare said Whitley neither fled the scene nor attempted to deflect responsibility.

He said his client had accepted he made "entirely the wrong decision" to drive.

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.

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