Driver jailed after crash killed friend

A DRUNK driver who caused the death of his best friend after crashing a BMW car while overtaking on a sharp bend has been jailed for three-and-a-half years.

A DRUNK driver who caused the death of his best friend after crashing a BMW car while overtaking on a sharp bend has been jailed for three-and-a-half years.

Nick Benson, 24, died after being thrown from the vehicle in the accident caused by friend Maxwell Powell's "erratic" and "dangerous" driving.

Powell lost control of the BMW after completing a dangerous manoeuvre on the A1124 Halstead Road, Earls Colne, on September 7 last year.

The 23-year-old, who has previous convictions for dangerous driving and drink driving, was sentenced at Chelmsford Crown Court yesterday .

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Judge Jeremy Richards told Powell the punishment could have been heavier but for a letter of "unbelievable forgiveness" sent to the court by Mr Benson's mother.

Part of the letter said: "When we are with Mr Powell we feel Nick is not far away".

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And last night, Mr Benson's father, Richard, said: "We had hoped he wasn't going to get put in prison.

"We have built a garden for our son, and 'Max' has been round here helping put it together.

"He still comes up when he feels he can cope. They had been in and out of boyhood scrapes for quite some time.

"It is just unfortunate. The whole family feels that he has got his life sentence already, and what more can you do? We are not vindictive and I feel this will not bring Nick back."

Powell, of High Street, Earls Colne, who had previously pleaded guilty to causing death by dangerous driving, was also banned from driving for a period of four years.

Simon Molyneux(crct), for Powell, said the horrific crash that ended the life of Mr Benson, of Fish Pitts Lane, Bures Hamlet, was a "tragedy waiting to happen".

The court heard how on the evening of the fatal accident the close friends had gone to the Halstead Snooker Club.

In the club the pair spoke to bar worker Natasha Cort . She said the friends told her they had been fishing and had drunk some cans of lager. Both men drank more alcohol during the night and at one stage Powell had appeared unsteady on his feet.

Prosecutor Matthew Gowen said at the end of the night Ms Cort had seen Powell drive away in a "very angry way" with lots of "revving and noise".

The court heard that another witness, Christopher Cass, was travelling home along the A1124 towards Earls Colne when Powell overtook him at speed on a sharp bend at the beginning of a steep hill.

But when Powell's car quickly cut back in to avoid hitting an on-coming vehicle, it clipped the verge and spun out of control.

It crashed into a hedge before rolling onto its roof and ending up sideways in the road.

Mr Gowen told the court Mr Cass then got out of his car to be confronted by a frantic Powell who was yelling "I can't find my mate Ben, I have killed my best mate, I can't find him, I am drunk."

Mr Cass then walked back down the road and found Mr Benson's motionless body. Paramedics were called but Mr Benson was declared dead at the scene.

Police arrived shortly after and gave Powell a roadside breath-test that he failed. He was taken to Braintree police station where a second test showed him to be more than double the legal drink drive limit. No separate charge for this offence was brought on top of the more serious causing death by dangerous driving count.

In mitigation, Mr Molyneux said: "This is an absolutely terrible tragedy for the Benson family and a shattering one for the Powell family.

"The letter from Mr Benson's mother on behalf of Mr Powell throws up unbelievable forgiveness and this awful tragedy is something that the defendant will have to live with for the rest of his life.

"All I can really say in his favour is that he could not be more overwhelmingly distraught."

The court heard that Powell was banned from driving for 12 months in 2000 after he was convicted for dangerous driving.

In 2003 he was banned for another 12 months for driving with excess alcohol. On that occasion the ban was shortened by three months after he completed a driver's rehabilitation course.

Before passing sentence, the judge said the main aggravating features in the case were Powell's previous convictions, his deliberate bad driving and the consumption of alcohol.

After sentencing him to three-and-a-half years in prison, the judge said: "The letter I have received from Mrs Benson makes my job even more difficult, but there is a requirement upon me to carry out my public duty.

"I doubt anyone can fail to be moved by what we have heard, but dangerous driving is a serious social evil that can only lead to lengthy custodial sentences."

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