A 21-year-old man who caused the deaths of his brother and cousin when the car he was driving crashed into a tree stump and split in two was jailed for twelve months and disqualified from driving for six years yesterday.
Judge Philip Babington told Dylan McDonald, who was accompanied to the Crown Court in Derry for the sentencing by his mother and other members of his family, that it was a heart-wrenching case which the defendant, his parents and other family members would unfortunately remember for the rest of their lives.
McDonald, from Allen Park in Donemana, was driving on the road for the first time in the early hours of June 3, 2015, when he lost control of the Volkswagen Golf car on an undulating stretch of the road leading into a bend.
He and his girlfriend, who was a front seat passenger, were both wearing seat-belts and escaped with minor injuries.
However, his 19-year-old brother Aaron and his 21-year-old cousin Michael Norman McDonald, who were both back seat passengers, were not wearing seatbelts when the car they were travelling in hit the tree stump at a speed of 60mph before crashing into a field.
Aaron landed on the road after the impact and was found coughing up blood.
He was rushed by ambulance to Altnagelvin Hospital but he had suffered severe head injuries and went into cardiac arrest before he died.
Michael McDonald was discovered in the same field that the car had crashed into after hitting the tree stump; he was already dead.
The defendant's car had crossed the middle of the road rotating in a clockwise direction before travelling along a grass verge and crashing into the tree stump, the court heard.
McDonald pleaded guilty to causing the deaths of his brother and cousin by dangerous driving, causing their deaths while driving without a licence and without insurance and he also admitted using false number plates which he had copied from others he had seen on Facebook.
When he spoke to police officers at the scene he told them he saw full beam lights coming towards him and that he must have hit a large puddle before he lost control.
He said the back of his car went sideways and he then slid out of control and that immediately before the crash the traction warning light had flashed on the dashboard.
A subsequent examination of the car found no defects on the vehicle.
McDonald, who had failed the theory part of his driving test three times, also admitted to the police that he had never attempted to obtain insurance for the car, which he had bought six weeks before the crash.
Judge Philip Babington said he had read victim impact reports from the defendant's mother and other family members.
He said they demonstrated the devastating loss felt by the two families and the closeness of the relationship which existed between McDonald and the two victims.
He said it was clear all three were like brothers to each other.
Judge Babington said he had also read a psychiatric report compiled on McDonald which referred to the impact the accident had on him and during which he had expressed his feelings of guilt and responsibility for what had happened.
Judge Babington said that while McDonald deserved maximum credit in terms of sentencing, there were aggravating factors in the case which he had to consider.
"It is impossible to ignore certain features of the case relating to a lack of a licence, the lack of insurance and the deliberate deception of cloning vehicle registration plates. It is obvious that the defendant was driving illegally for some considerable time.
"His girlfriend said she was picked up by him in this car on approximately forty occasions, although that may be an over-estimation.
"People must have known about this deliberate breaking of the law and it is a serious feature of this offending," he said.
"It is also yet another example of a young man driving in a completely inappropriate manner which has brought about loss for far too many families in this area. This court has a duty to deal with these matters with understanding and justice. Whilst the court can dispense justice with mercy, it also has to act so as to deter others," Judge Babington said.
He told McDonald that if he had been convicted following a jury trial he would have jailed him for up to six years, but because of the heart-wrenching details of the case and because of the way in which he had met the matter, he was prepared to deal with it in an exceptional manner.
Judge Babington told McDonald he would serve half of the twelve-month jail sentence in custody and half on licence in the community.
Meanwhile, speaking after the sentencing hearing, temporary Chief Inspector Jonny Hunter said his thoughts were with the family members and friends of the two young men killed in the crash.
"I wish to thank the members of the emergency services and the members of the public who assisted the police at the scene of what was a catastrophic crash.
"It is clear there are no winners from this tragic accident," he said.
"Despite our road safety campaign we have seen so far this year twenty people killed on our roads, including one yesterday. Speed was a factor in this case, as was the inexperience of the young driver.
"The two deceased in the rear of the car were not wearing seat belts.
"While I cannot be entirely sure, I strongly believe if they had been wearing their seat belts in what was clearly a preventable accident, there is a strong possibility they would have survived this collision.
"The family circle has suffered immensely.
"A young driver has to live with the consequences of his actions for the rest of his life.
"It is so sad that two young men died in what was a totally avoidable incident.
"I would appeal to drivers, particularly to young drivers, to slow down and take into consideration driving conditions," he added.