Man pleads guilty to hit-and-run

ON THE day his trial was set to start in Lismore District Court Goonellabah man Matthew Bell pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing the death of his good friend Samuel Hollingworth in a hit-and-run two years ago.

Mr Hollingworth, 24, died after he was struck by Bell’s Holden Commodore on Ballina Road, Lismore Heights, at 1am on March 16, 2008.

A wreath of flowers tied to a pole still marks the site of the tragedy at the High Street junction near the Shell service station.

Appearing before Judge James Black yesterday, Bell, 31, also pleaded guilty to failing to stop and assist Mr Hollingworth following the impact.

In Crown facts agreed to by Bell and his defence team, barrister Peter O’Connor and lawyer Ralph James, Bell was driving west along Ballina Road taking Mr Hollingworth to hospital as he had been punched by another man.

Mr Hollingworth, who had been drinking, yelled at a group of young men he saw walking on the same side of the road and Bell stopped his car.

Mr Hollingworth got out and challenged the young men to fight him. Bell was punched to the mouth (while seated in the car) by one man before accelerating away leaving his friend behind on the footpath.

About 50 metres before a roundabout, Bell did a U-turn by driving across the median strip, then accelerating harshly as he drove east along Ballina Road.

Mr Hollingworth and another man ran from the southern footpath, across the median strip and on to the eastbound traffic lane.

About 90 metres from where he did the U-turn, Bell’s Commodore struck his friend. Bell did not brake or swerve before he hit him. He then drove away from the scene.

Mr Hollingworth was thrown 10 to 15 metres into the gutter. Other drivers stopped to render help before he was taken to Lismore Base Hospital where he died.

Bell drove to his Goonellabah house, left his car there and walked to his parents’ house.

Bell said he did not have his headlights on and saw ‘three blokes’ running towards him. Two had ‘backed off’ but one of them ran in front of him.

He also visited the home of Mr Hollingworth’s sister who told him Sam had died.

At 4.50am police located Bell’s Commodore at his house with its front passenger side headlight damaged. The front grille was missing and there was blood on the front spoiler.

At 6.25am Bell returned to his home. Crying, he told police: “I did it. I was the one who drove the car.”

Bell accepted he drove in a dangerous manner and at the time of impact was exceeding the speed limit and driving with his head- lights off.

With his bail continued, Bell will be sentenced in May.

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