Ordering 45-year-old James Lavery to serve half his sentence in jail and half on licence, Judge Patricia Smyth also handed him a 12 month driving ban.
She told the Ballyclare man that while the reports and references show that “you are an exemplary member of the community and it’s very sad when these situations arise where tragedy occurs to innocent victims, particularly children…but the facts is I must sentence you on the basis of the guidelines.”
At the end of his week long trial last April, the jury deliberated for just 20 minutes before they returned unanimous guilty verdicts against Lavery, convicting him on two counts of causing grievous bodily injury by dangerous driving on 3 September 2018.
While a guilty plea to the lesser offence of GBI caused by careless driving “had been canvassed by the court,” no such plea was ever forthcoming so having heard evidence that his Suzuki jeep mounted the kerb on the Belfast Road in Antrim, the jury decided that his standard of driving “fell far below that which would be expected of a careful and competent driver.”
The victims, a then aged 15-year-old girl and her five-year-old nephew, were walking on the footpath when Lavery’s jeep swerved across the chevrons, the oncoming lane and then mounted the kerb, tossing them both into the air before coming to a halt.
The little boy sustained multiple fractures to his collar bone, ankle and foot and has made a full physical recovery but his teenage aunt suffered “life changing injuries” including a traumatic brain injury which has left her with “cognitive difficulties, her opportunities for employment has been effected and she has some mobility issues.”
“It’s a complete tragedy,” declared Judge Smyth, adding that “I accept of course that you had no intention to cause any harm to anyone on that day.”
She told Lavery however that “irrespective of any lack of intention to cause harm… The purpose of the legislation is to punish those who cause serious injury to others by driving in a manner that falls far below that which is expected of a careful and confident driver.“
Jailing Lavery, the judge said that even the expert engineer instructed by the defence had concluded that he “should’ve had ample time to come to a halt from the posted speed limit without mounting the kerb and certainly without proceeding along the footpath.”