Belfast Telegraph

Suspended sentence for speeding R driver who killed Co Down pensioner

Matthew McKee
Matthew McKee
The scene of the fatal crash in Newcastle
Geoff Cartwright

By Paul Higgins

An R driver who knocked down and killed a pensioner because he was going too fast walked from court with a suspended jail sentence yesterday.

Suspending the 10-month-term for two years and imposing an 18-month driving ban on Matthew McKee at Downpatrick Crown Court, Judge Geoffrey Millar QC told the 20-year-old it was clear that by driving at 38-42 mph through Newcastle town centre, he was "driving too quickly for the prevailing conditions".

He told McKee that had he kept to the 30mph speed limit, "then the collision would not have occurred".

"A simple moment of inattention can lead to catastrophic results and even life-ending consequences," said the judge.

He added that the death of Geoffrey Cartwright should be a warning to everyone who drives, "myself included...that a car can be an instrument of death and destruction if one allows it and the consequences for drivers, passengers and other road users, as in this case, can be devastating".

At an earlier hearing McKee, from Meadowlands Avenue, Kilkeel, pleaded guilty to causing the death of Mr Cartwright by driving carelessly on South Promenade in Newcastle on August 24, 2017.

Yesterday, prosecuting QC Richard Weir said 78-year-old widower Mr Cartwright, a retired teacher and father-of-six, had been in Mackins Bar with his brother Reginald when the pair left at around 10.30pm.

Mr Weir told the court the brothers crossed the road in front of the bar, with Reginald reporting that apart from a set of headlights in the distance, he felt the road was clear.

He managed to get to the other side but, having taken a few steps, "he hears a thud behind him" and turned to see "his unfortunate brother lying on his side, facing the wall" having been struck by McKee's Ford Focus.

Members of the local RNLI crew had been in the bar and along with an off-duty nurse, they tended to Mr Cartwright.

He was rushed to Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital but Mr Weir said that "despite all their valiant efforts" the pensioner died of his injuries.

At the scene McKee "was visibly distressed," said the lawyer, adding that the R driver had only passed his driving test two months ea rlier and a breath test "proved negative". Mr Weir said a forensic report estimated McKee was travelling at between 38-42 mph before the accident, the limit being 30.

The senior lawyer said while the report also highlighted that a parked van "obscured the driver's view of matters... that doesn't exempt the accused".

"Speed is at the heart of the collision here," said Mr Weir, adding that "one had to factor in also that this was a young and inexperienced driver."

He told Judge Millar: "It seems to be the upshot of the report that had he been within the speed limit, this accident in all probability would not have happened and therein lies the tragedy for everyone."

With Mr Cartwright's friends and relatives filling half of the public gallery, Mr Weir said "one can hardly fail but be moved" by the statements regarding the impact of his death.

Defence QC Patrick Lyttle said the "thrust of my plea is that a custodial sentence is not required in this case", given McKee's guilty plea, his clear record, the lack of aggravating factors, his insight into the consequences for the Cartwright family and his "genuine and heartfelt remorse for causing them such pain".

He called digger driver McKee a "decent, hard working young man" from a respectable family.

"There but for the grace of God go all of us in cases of this nature," said Mr Lyttle.

Judge Millar said he had received statements from some of Mr Cartwright's children "and the clear picture that emerges is of the love and affection in which he was held, described as the glue that kept the family together and as the person in whom each person placed their love and confidence".

"There can be no doubt that the shock and sudden nature of his death has only added to the sense of grief and one has a sense that was exacerbated because it deprived those closest to him of the opportunity to say their goodbyes," said the judge.

The judge said it was clear from the reports that had McKee not been speeding, the collision either would not have occurred at all or his speed when he struck the pensioner would have been around 10mph instead of the estimated 24.

The judge told him "this was a serious and tragic incident caused by a combination of factors, including excessive speed and your driving inexperience".

He said that while the custody threshold had been passed, "an immediate sentence of imprisonment is not appropriate" so he suspended the 10 month term for two years.

Relatives of Mr Cartwright shook their heads and some women wept silently as sentence was passed, but outside, only one man would comment that "you see the consequences on TV of dangerous driving but that's the reality in there - you get away with it".

McKee and his family declined to comment.

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