Published: 12:00, 22 December 2014
A teenage drink driver who told a court of her “genuine remorse” for knocking down and killing a cyclist has been jailed.
Beth Mackie, 18, fought back tears on Friday as a judge was told she was “struggling to deal with” causing the death of dad-of-three Christian Smith while more than double the legal limit.
She had earlier pleaded guilty to causing death by dangerous driving and drink driving and was sentenced at Canterbury Crown Court.
The court heard how the accident happened at 4am on March 22 as Mr Smith, 38, was in the middle of a 24-hour charity bike ride.
At the time of the tragedy, Mr Smith was wearing clothes appropriate for the conditions and he had lights on the rear of his bicycle.
Reading from a heartbreaking statement, his wife Katie told how she tried to save her husband’s life.
She said: “I was alone with him at the road and tried desperately to save him, but I could not and for this I will feel guilt for the rest of my life.”
“A gaping hole has been left in our lives which can never be filled. My life is now one long day trying to make sure my children’s lives are as normal as possible...." - cyclist's widow Katie Smith
Mrs Smith told the hushed court that a few hours later she had to wake their three young children and tell them their father was dead.
“The noises they made can only be described as horrifying,” she said, adding that her husband loved his family more than anything.
“A gaping hole has been left in our lives which can never be filled. My life is now one long day trying to make sure my children’s lives are as normal as possible.
“My partner has gone. I try to fill my time so I do not have to face reality. Nothing could have prepared me for how I feel.”
Mrs Smith told how she now had to face Christmas Day watching her children open their stockings without their father.
“I think of the school plays, parents’ evenings and sports days which Christian will never attend,” she added.
Mr Smith's death led to an outpouring of sympathy and donations to his Just Giving page raced to more than £80,000.
Amy Packham, prosecuting, read a statement from Mr Smith’s brother in which he spoke of the profound effect his death had had on the family.
In it he said: “I have days of overwhelming grief and emotion. I find it so hard to think that Christian is not with us.
Mr Smith said it was his brother’s birthday three days after he died and added: “My daughter, Christian’s new niece, was born 10 days after his death.”
Miss Packham said Mr Smith started a 24-hour charity cycle ride to raise money for Mind and left his home near Ashford on March 21.
His wife accompanied him in her car along sections of the ride to check on his progress and provide support.
For part of the way he was accompanied by a friend who cycled along with him.
Shortly after midnight the friend decided he had had enough and Mrs Smith picked him up and took him home.
She then went to find her husband and they met up in the Reculver area, Miss Packham said.
“It was raining and Mrs Smith tried to persuade her husband to come home in the car but he refused as he was committed to completing the ride,” the barrister added.
“She decided to stay with him and follow him out of Reculver to Greenhill.
“They then turned around as they had taken the wrong road. Then Mrs Smith overtook her husband and stayed a few car lengths in front of him.
“Also travelling along that road in the same direction was Mackie in her Peugeot 206. She’d only been driving for about 10 minutes when the collision happened.”
Miss Packham said Mr Smith was wearing a helmet and appropriate reflective clothing for night cycling.
“Mackie’s car struck Mr Smith from behind, causing him to go up and land behind her. Mrs Smith heard a noise and assumed her husband had been hit.
"She saw a car approaching at speed and had to take avoiding action and pull on the verge.”
Miss Packham added: “It is unclear why Mackie failed to respond to Mr Smith. She did not stop at once, instead about 400m down the road.
“Her remorse is genuine and she struggles to see how she can deal with this in the future...." - defence lawyer Tom Allen
"Mrs Smith was attending to her husband and called an ambulance. Despite significant efforts to save his life he died at the scene.”
When police turned up they saw Mackie and her passenger walking away from the accident.
They stopped and police smelled alcohol on her breath and she was given a breathalyser test, which she failed.
“She told the police that she was sure she was doing 69mph and seemed to think the limit was 70mph,” Miss Packham said.
She was arrested and a test taken two-and-a-half hours later showed she had 73 micrograms of alcohol in 100ml of breath – more than twice the legal limit.
A post mortem examination showed Mr Smith died from multiple injuries, including a fractured skull.
“They were catastrophic injuries,” Miss Packham said.
A black box fitted to her car by her insurance company showed Mackie was driving at up to 76mph in the moments before the accident.
Tom Allen, defending, said the teenager had been driving for four months when the accident happened and what she did that night was an “aberration”.
“She lives in Herne Bay and had gone out that night in her home town and it had not been her intention to drive,” Mr Allen said.
“Her passenger, who was upset about breaking up from his girlfriend, asked her to drive him home and she made the terrible decision to drive that night with the ensuing consequences.”
Mr Allen said alcohol impaired her judgment and ability to drive.
“She is extremely inexperienced with life and driving and this was the chief contributory factor in her behaviour that night.
“Her remorse is genuine and she struggles to see how she can deal with this in the future.”
Handing down the sentence, Judge Adele Williams told Mackie: "You had been to a nightclub consuming cocktails and vodka.
"Your ability to drive was seriously impaired and you failed to see Mr Smith. He was a few days short of his birthday and had children aged 12, nine and five."
Judge Williams said Mrs Smith had read her statement to the court with dignity and courage.
"You did not set out to kill anyone but it was grossly irresponsible of you to drive while unfit through alcohol..." - Judge Adele Williams
"It is plain that Mr Smith was a loving husband, son, father and brother," she said.
"It is heart rending to read of the questions asked by Mr Smith's children. They will grow up without knowing their father.
"Mrs Smith witnessed the accident and tried to help her husband as he lay dying in the road.
"You said you did not see him and he was not wearing reflective clothing but he was. You also said 'I am sure I was driving at 69mph'. The speed limit on that road is 60mph but your speed was 76mph in the moments before the collision."
Judge Williams said it was plain that Mackie was intelligent and hard working and her family had been devastated by the accident.
"But whatever anguish they feel it is nothing compared to that of Mr Smith's family," she said.
"Of course, you did not set out to kill anyone but it was grossly irresponsible of you to drive while unfit through alcohol."
Mackie was jailed for five years, banned from driving for five years and she will have to re-take her driving test.
After the sentencing, Mrs Smith said: "The last eight months have been incredibly difficult and I hope after today that myself and my children will be able to start looking forward.
"I would not have made it through this time without the amazing support of my family and friends, for which I will always be thankful.
"I would also like to thank Kent Police for treating me with such kindness and consideration."
Sergeant Glyn Walker, from Kent Police's roads policing unit, added: "This was a tragic incident that has had far-reaching consequences for everyone affected.
"Christian Smith's death has had a devastating impact on his family, friends and everyone else who knew and loved him, and our thoughts are with them today.
"Bethany Mackie must now live with what she has done for the rest of her life.
"This is an absolutely tragic case and highlights just how devastating drink driving can be..." - Chief prosecutor Jaswant Narwal
"Her breath contained 73 microgrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath, which is more than twice the legal limit.
"However, any amount of alcohol affects your ability to drive so the only safe option is not to drink alcohol at all if you are planning to get behind the wheel.
"Unfortunately in cases such as this, it is an innocent person whose life is lost."
Chief Crown Prosecutor for CPS South East, Jaswant Narwal, said: "This is an absolutely tragic case and highlights just how devastating drink driving can be.
"This sentencing, coming just a few days before Christmas, when campaigns to prevent people drinking and driving are at their height, gets the message home to people about the cost of drink driving in the starkest way possible.
"When he was killed, Christian was attempting to raise money for charity and tragically, his wife Katie, who was supporting her husband, was driving just ahead of him and heard the impact.
"Those who were present in court today heard a harrowing account from Katie of what happened that night and the impact that Christian’s death has had on his family over the last few months.
"As they prepare for their first Christmas without him, at least they now have the small consolation of knowing that the person responsible for his death is today starting to pay the price for their actions that night, which had such devastating consequences on their lives.”
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