A Sandy Bay man has been jailed for causing death by dangerous driving in a case in which the sentencing judge said he would not have been imprisoned had it not been for the guideline that the court is bound to follow.
Justice Brian Cottle handed down the sentence of one year, 11 months and three weeks on Eddison Ballantyne, 40, this month and further disqualified him from holding or obtaining a driver’s permit for five years from March 10, 2023.
“I am feeling so bad about it. I just regret that. I regret the day the accident happened,” Ballantyne told the court before the sentence was handed down.
Ballantyne was first arraigned on April 22, 2022 and pleaded not guilty to a charge that he caused the death of Glenron Ballantyne, 17, by dangerous driving.
His trial was adjourned to date to be fixed and on Feb. 6, 2023 he asked that the indictment be put to him again and he pleaded guilty.
The facts of the case are that Ballantyne was driving a car from Kingstown to Georgetown on the evening of May 12, 2020.
There were five adult passengers and two infants on board when he overtook a minibus at Diamond.
By his estimate, he reached a speed of 80 to 90 mph — twice the speed limit.
Having passed the minibus, he tried to turn an upcoming corner but lost control of the car and collided with an incoming vehicle while he was still in the wrong lane.
The impact caused his vehicle to go over a roadside embankment, where the vehicle stopped.
Ballantyne and several of his passengers received serious injuries and were taken to hospital.
They all recovered, except Glenron, who did not awake from a coma and died of his injuries six days later.
Ballantyne had had his driver’s license for about 16 months at the time of the accident.
He told police he was driving behind a minibus, at 80 to 90 mph, when the bus suddenly stopped without warning and he veered into the other lane to avoid a collision.
On doing so, he saw white lights approaching and he had no further recollection of what happened that evening.
Ballantyne, an automobile repair man and night watchman is the father of three young girls.
A social inquiry report said his family and community see him as a quiet, hard-working individual.
He lived with mother, stepfather and three other siblings, was educated up to the form 3 and was described as a diligent worker.
He had no criminal history.
The mother of the victim said the driver was a good friend to the deceased and she had nothing negative to say about him and had forgiven him for the accident that claimed her son’s life.
Ballantyne also expressed sincere remorse and accepted responsibility and pleaded guilty, the judge said.
Justice Cottle said that the maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving is seven years, and the person must be disqualified from driving for at least three years.
He noted a case in Antigua in which the judge set out the sentencing guidelines for the offence, saying that the starting point should be imprisonment if the dangerous driving causes death.
The Court of Appeal also ruled in a case in St. Lucia that unless good reason or special circumstances exist, an offender must expect a custodial sentence for death by dangerous driving, Justice Cottle pointed out.
The judge noted that the law in St. Lucia provides for a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment of five years for the offence.
He, however, said that in most jurisdictions served by the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, most cases of causing death by dangerous driving where the offender pleads guilty attract a suspended sentence.
He noted the aims of criminal sentencing, namely deterrence, retribution, prevention and rehabilitation and further added that the court must follow the sentencing guidelines unless doing so would result in an injustice in a particular case.
Justice Cottle said he saw no reason to depart from the guidelines in the extant case.
He placed the offence at level B or medium seriousness, noting that Ballantyne was driving at twice the speed limit, though for a short period.
His driving was aggressive as he was too close to the vehicle in front of him, causing him to be unable to stop when that vehicle stopped, the judge held.
He established a starting point of 55% or 3 years 10 months and one week.
Aggravating of the offence was that Ballantyne had placed the lives of his seven passengers at risk.
Further he risked the lives of other road users, both drivers and pedestrians who might have been in the area at the time.
He caused serious injuries to other passengers and had on board his car more persons than it was designed to carry.
Mitigating, the judge said, was that the deceased was a relative of Ballantyne, who himself was seriously injured in the accident.
Ballantyne was a relatively inexperienced driver at the time, the court noted.
There were no aggravating features of the offence and mitigating for the offender was his previously clean record, which included no conviction for traffic offences.
Ballantyne was also very remorseful. The court held and concluded that the mitigating features of the offence slightly outweigh the aggravating features.
The judge moved the sentence down by 10 months and one week.
Justice Cottle said that while Ballantyne did not plead guilty at first opportunity, he had asked for time to seek legal advice.
The court noted that he still did not have a lawyer when he pleaded guilty and that the prosecution has asked the court to apply the maximum one-third discount for an early guilty plea.
In light of this, the court deducted one year from the sentence, as well as the seven days that Ballantyne had spent on remand while awaiting sentencing, leaving a sentence of one year 11 months and three weeks.
“Custodial or non-custodial sentence?” the judge pondered, adding that before the sentencing guidelines came into force, offenders who pleaded guilty to causing death by dangerous driving were rarely imprisoned.
He, however, said that the guidelines said that they must be followed unless doing so will lead to injustice.
The judge said that while guidance can be had from earlier regimes in the region, the new one — the guidelines — now applies.
He said that without the guidelines he would not have applied a custody sentence but noted that the court must now follow the guidelines.