Belfast Telegraph

Driver who ran over and killed prison officer while on phone avoids jail

Whyte leaves an earlier court appearance
Whyte leaves an earlier court appearance

By Paul Higgins

A driver who was using his mobile phone when he knocked down and killed a pedestrian has avoided jail after the judge suspended his 10-month prison sentence for three years.

Antrim Crown Court Judge Brian Sherrard told 44-year-old Robert Darren Whyte that although his use of a mobile phone contributed to the accident that killed Jason Thomas Walsh in October 2016, "it seems likely the collision would have occurred in any event" even if he had not been holding it below the steering wheel.

The judge added that another factor was the potential impact of an immediate prison sentence on Whyte's two sons, both of whom are autistic.

"There's a growing body of opinion that questions the benefit of short periods of imprisonment," said the judge.

He told Whyte it was those two factors "which persuade me that this is an exceptional case and that the sentence ought to be suspended".

At an earlier hearing married father-of-two Whyte, from the Drumbane Road in Dungiven, pleaded guilty to causing the death of Mr Walsh by driving carelessly on the Glenhead Road in Limavady on October 27, 2016.

The 42-year-old prison officer and married dad-of-two had left his own car with a mechanic and was walking back to the town with his dog when the collision happened between Ballynarrig Road and Baranailt Road at around 6.20pm.

The force of the collision, said prosecuting QC Neil Connor, was such that Mr Walsh ended up going over a hedge.

While passers-by and the emergency services "did what they could to assist him, it was to no avail given the severity of the injuries he sustained". When police attended the scene Whyte was asked what had happened.

He confessed that having missed a call from his wife, he was trying to ring her back when he knocked down Mr Walsh.

Arrested and interviewed, Whyte admitted he had been "holding the phone below the steering wheel".

He also conceded that "he probably would have seen the deceased if he had not had his phone".

As well as the suspended jail sentence, Whyte was banned from driving for a year.

Judge Sherrard told Mrs Gillian Walsh, who sat quietly weeping in the public gallery, that she and her entire family had the "sincere condolences" of the court and that her late husband "was clearly a very valuable member not just to your family, but to the community".

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