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John McAuley and Samuel Graham Russell banned from roads over horror crash that left teen girl with catastrophic injuries

By Ashleigh McDonald

A judge has warned about the potential for “death and destruction” on our roads when drivers allow themselves to be distracted behind the wheel.

Judge Geoffrey Miller QC was speaking during the sentencing of two young motorists appearing in court over a head-on collision in Whitehead that resulted in a teenage girl suffering “catastrophic, life-changing injuries”.

John McAuley (19), from Dunkeld Gardens in Belfast, and 21-year old Samuel Graham Russell, from Broadlands in Carrickfergus, appeared at Belfast Crown Court on offences related to the collision on the Slaughterford Road on August 11, 2014.

The severely injured teenage girl, who was a passenger in McAuley’s car and who sustained brain trauma, attended yesterday’s hearing using a walking aid.

After McAuley’s Renault Clio collided head-on with another vehicle close to a hump-back bridge, he admitted a charge of causing grievous bodily injury by careless driving. He had only been driving for two months when the collision occurred and had to be cut from his vehicle.

Russell, who was not directly involved in the collision but whose careless driving prior to the crash contributed to events, admitted driving with no insurance and driving without due care and attention.

The court heard Russell had been driving his Vauxhall Corsa when a car pulled out of a housing estate and into the road. Instead of slowing down to allow the driver to pull out, Russell overtook the car and for a short period was driving on the wrong side of the road.

McAuley was driving in the opposite direction and, as he was coming over the bridge, manoeuvred his vehicle to avoid colliding with Russell. This in turn led to the Clio crashing head-on into a Hyundai Santa Fe driving in the opposite direction.

The court heard that while it was accepted McAuley was observing the 30mph speed limit, he was “unable to react in time and deal with the presence of Russell’s vehicle overtaking the Santa Fe”.

Crown prosecutor Kate McKay said that while a number of people sustained injuries, McAuley’s 16-year old passenger, who was not wearing a seatbelt, was flung from the back seat and hit the dashboard head-first.

She was rushed to the Royal Victoria Hospital, where she remained critically ill for several months after sustaining significant brain damage in the crash, which the court heard had changed her life dramatically.

Mrs McKay, after seeing photographs of the vehicles following the collision, said it was “amazing that anyone got out alive.”

Judge Miller QC spoke of the “devastating injuries” suffered by the female passenger.

He also warned of the potential for death and destruction from people who allowed themselves to be distracted when driving.

The judge fined Russell £250 on each of the two counts and banned him from driving for six months.

Russell had made a series of modifications to the Corsa that rendered his insurance invalid.

Defence barrister Sean O’Hare said his client later referred to the collision as “like something from a DoE advertisement”.

McAuley was ordered to complete 240 hours of community service and was disqualified from driving for a year.

Taylor Campbell QC, representing father-of-one McAuley, spoke of the remorse his client felt over the injuries suffered by his passenger.

Mr Taylor said that while his client was not speeding, he accepted that “had he been driving a bit slower, things may have turned out differently”.

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