Belfast Telegraph

Family weeps as motorist jailed for causing death of James Boyd

By Paul Higgins

The family of a man tragically killed in a head-on car crash wept silently in court as the driver was jailed for six months.

The former wife of James Boyd, a father of four from the Drumaghadone Road in Dromore, said they had received "an element of justice" after 45-year-old Mark Johnston was sentenced.

Mr Boyd died after a car driven by a distracted Johnston on the wrong side of the road ploughed into the front of his Mercedes on the Banbridge Road in Dromore on April 27, 2014.

At an earlier hearing, Johnston, from Glen Rise in Belfast, pleaded guilty to causing the death of Mr Boyd by driving carelessly.

Speaking outside court after Johnston was jailed, Mr Boyd's ex-wife Elizabeth and three of his children, Mark, Laura and Julie, said they were relieved at the sentence as "there's an element of justice to it".

"If we had left here today and the person drove up the road in front of us it would be very hard to deal with that but at least we know that tonight, he is behind bars and there's some justice," said Julie.

"I'm just so happy that he isn't walking away today. I don't think I could cope with that."

Sitting together in a side room at Newry Crown Court, the grief and pain they still feel is etched on their faces and visible in their body language.

Asked how the family has coped, Julie said: "Coping isn't even a word I would use."

"Daddy was a generous man and a very funny man.

"He was the 'go to' person, he was the fixer in the family and he was constantly in contact.

"There wasn't a day went by that he wasn't on the phone."

Elizabeth said that if anything good was to come out of the tragedy, it would be that other drivers "think about the long term implications of driving not only too fast, but being prepared to stop if necessary.

"This death was caused at under 40 miles per hour".

As he jailed Johnston for six months, ordering him to serve a further six months on licence after release, Judge Kevin Finnegan QC said he had "seldom seen such glowing references to a person such as James Boyd, or Jimmy", as he had been known to friends and family.

Quoting from one victim impact statement, the judge said Laura, the eldest daughter of the "extremely popular and loved" 54-year-old cattle dealer wrote that "whatever sentence is imposed on the driver will be temporary - but the sentence on all who knew him will be a life sentence".

Prosecuting QC Jackie Orr told the court that Mr Boyd's partner,, who was the front seat passenger, had described how the two were approaching the A1 carriageway from Dromore when she saw the other car on their side of the road and then "there was a loud bang" as the vehicles collided.

"She nudged Mr Boyd and asked if he was OK but there was no reply," said Ms Orr.

Mr Boyd was pronounced dead at the scene.

The impact triggered a police investigation and the lawyer told the court that according to a forensic engineer, it appeared that despite there being a 20mph limit on the exit/entrance road, Johnston's car had been travelling between 28 and 37mph.

Ms Orr said that a forensic engineer suggested that as a result of his speed, Johnston had under-steered and when he put the brakes on, a fault in the car's ABS system had caused the wheels to lock and the car to skid into the oncoming lane.

While Johnston's Vauxhall Insignia had that one fault and was in otherwise good condition, Mr Boyd's Mercedes "was maintained in excellent condition."

Ms Orr told the court she was aware Mr Boyd's family and friends were in court so she would not fully open the findings of the post-mortem examination, save to say that "the cause of death were fractures of the spine consistent with a road traffic collision."

Arrested and interviewed, Johnston initially claimed the Mercedes had been in his lane so he had "braked heavily but couldn't avoid a collision".

In his third and final interview, when statements had been put to him, "he made no comment," Ms Orr told the court.

She added that his guilty plea had been "of considerable solace to the family".

She said it was the Crown view that Johnston's excessive speed brought the case "close to dangerous driving" but that in any event, his relevant convictions for careless driving and driving without insurance in the past aggravated the offence.

Defence QC Arthur Harvey said Johnston had expressed remorse but "will have to live with the fact he killed a fellow human being for the rest of his life".

He revealed that during his police interviews, Johnston had asked to take a break "because the face of the deceased was constantly before his mind and he couldn't concentrate due to the anxiety that this was causing him".

Mr Harvey further revealed that under instruction from an off-duty, pregnant nurse who stopped to help, Johnston and his brother had tried to resuscitate Mr Boyd after the defendant himself had called the emergency services.

Jailing Johnston and banning him from driving for five years, Judge Finnegan said he felt that he had "no alternative but to impose a custodial sentence".

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