A LEADING Blackdown Hills young farmer who killed his best friend in a drink-drive crash near Dunkeswell has been given a suspended jail sentence.
William Bennett was giving 23-year-old Jacob Chugg-White and three other friends a lift home after a three-hour drinking session at a pub in East Devon when he crashed his Volkswagen Golf in a country lane.
Mr Chugg-White, who was known as Chuggy, was thrown out of the car as it flipped over and suffered catastrophic injuries and died at the scene.
All five of the car occupants were friends and members of Honiton Young Farmers Club (YFC) who had met at Bennett’s home before he drove them 15 minutes to a nearby pub, where they stayed from 9 pm until midnight.
The crash happened near Dunkeswell as they all returned to his home at Broadhembury shortly after midnight on July 23 last year.
Bennett gave a blood sample a few hours later and a back calculation showed he was over the alcohol limit.
The lowest level of alcohol was 96 milligrams in 100 millilitres of blood but it could have been as high as 110 mg. The legal limit is 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood.
Bennett told police he was driving faster than usual at about 45 to 50 mph and had flipped the car after losing control on a bend.
Mr Chugg-White had trained as a builder in college in Taunton, but gave up the trade to take up farming and had a smallholding with 100 sheep.
He had won awards for his husbandry and was about to start a placement on a sheep station in New Zealand to improve his knowledge.
Mr Chugg-White was a keen sportsman who had played rugby as a tight head for Sidmouth and had taken part in and organised a Honiton Young Farmers Club charity cycling event in France.
His mother, Sandra Chugg, wrote a victim impact statement which was read out in Exeter Crown Court.
She said she still cried for her son every day and felt as if her heart had been ripped out. His loss had ruined her life.
Ms Chugg said: “I cannot describe the loss. The loneliness is unbearable. It breaks my heart every day to think Jacob was taken away through the stupidity of drinking and driving.”
Bennett, aged 24, of Broadhembury, admitted causing death by careless driving while he was over the drink-driving limit and was jailed for two years, suspended for two years by Judge Justice Saini.
He was banned from driving for five years and ordered to do 150 hours of unpaid community work and 30 days of rehabilitation activities and undergo 120 days of monitored alcohol abstinence.
Judge Saini told Bennett: “These offences are always serious because someone has lost their life.
“Not only will Jacob’s family have to live with that for the rest of their lives but you will have to live with it as well.”
Beth Rickerby, prosecuting, said CCTV from the pub where Bennett and his passengers had been drinking showed he probably drank five beers and shared a short before driving home after midnight.
He and the other survivors, one of whom suffered minor injuries, were able to climb out of the wrecked car and found Mr Chugg-White unconscious on the edge of a ditch.
It appeared Mr Chugg-White had not been wearing a seat belt in the back seat.
An expert calculated that Bennett would have been well over the drink drive limit and that it would had had a significant effect on his ability to drive safely.
Rachel Smith, defending, said Bennett was racked with remorse and wanted to apologise for his actions.
His remorse was so great that he had needed help for his mental health.
Miss Smith said Bennett and Mr Chugg-White had been best friends since school.
He had tried to offer First Aid at the scene but had become so upset that his parents had taken him home.
Bennett was also a farmer who worked on his father’s land and was a keen member of the YFC, although he had suffered rejection by some of his friends as a result of the accident.
Miss Smith said: “The knowledge that his actions had led to loss of his best friend is a greater punishment than anything the court could impose and he remains devastated by it.”