Car driver racked with guilt
THE guilt he felt after killing his best mate with his car and fleeing the scene had turned a man into an emotional wreck, a court has been told.
The man, Matthew Ronald Bell, 31, was sentenced in the Lismore District Court on Friday to two-and-a-half years in prison on charges of dangerous driving causing death and failing to stop.
Bell had been driving his friend Sam Hollingworth to Lismore Base Hospital in his Holden Commodore at 1am on March 16, 2008, after he had been assaulted.
They passed a group of teenagers walking along Ballina Road and Mr Hollingworth told Bell to stop.
He got out and challenged the youths to a fight.
Bell remained in the car, but was punched in the face through the open window.
He drove away, did a U-turn, accelerated over the median strip and headed back towards the group with his headlights turned off.
About 90 metres after the U-turn he struck Mr Hollingworth, sending him flying into the gutter.
Bell then kept driving.
Other motorists stopped to help Mr Hollingworth, who was taken to hospital, where he died.
Bell drove to his Goonellabah home, left the damaged car there and walked to his parent’s house and told them about the incident.
He then went to Mr Hollingworth’s sister’s house and was told Sam had died.
Bell returned home at 4.50am to find police waiting, and told them ‘I did it. I drove the car’.
Bell pleaded guilty to the two charges – which both carry a maximum 10-year sentence – on March 9 this year.
His barrister, Peter O’Connor, told the court on Friday Bell had accepted responsibility for his friend’s death ‘to an obsessive degree’.
He said his client was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the incident.
Bell had panicked on the night and driven off in fear of further attack. There was no evidence of his having driven at grossly excessive speeds and he had not been drinking, Mr O’Connor said.
The ‘emergency situation’ he was trying to escape had caused him to keep the headlights off, and was the reason he hadn’t stopped.
It was a misjudgement rather than an act of abandoning his friend, he said.
But the prosecutor said the Crown did not accept Bell’s crimes were at the lower end of the offences.
Accelerating with the lights off and doing a U-turn did not smack of panic, she said, but suggested something more. The offence of failing to stop was very serious, she said.
In passing sentence, Judge James Black said it was a tragic situation.
He said he accepted to some extent that Bell’s driving was a product of panic.
But his failure to stop and assist his injured friend after the impact was not so easily explained.
Bell was given a non-parole period of 15 months and disqualified from driving until May 29, 2012.
The defence team immediately lodged an appeal against the severity of the sentence.