A man who killed his teenage friend in a "catastrophic" crash tried to push the blame onto his girlfriend has been given a suspended sentence.
Francesca Bugliarello, 18, from Sandbach in Cheshire, died after a car crashed on the A534 Haslington bypass on 13 June 2020.
Chester Crown Court heard the driver of the Vauxhall Corsa Matthew Ellson, who was 17 at the time, "took his eye off the road", causing him to crash into a parked lorry in a layby around 12.30am.
Two other passengers were in the car, including Ellson's girlfriend at the time Layla Grice and Caitlin Shorrock, who sustained serious injuries to her arm.
Ellson falsely claimed that Miss Grice grabbed the steering wheel and "pulled it towards the lorry", leading to her being arrested on suspicion of manslaughter.
Ellson, who is from Wistaton in Cheshire, pleaded guilty to causing death by careless driving last month on what was due to be the first day of a trial.
Judge Steven Everett criticised his "cowardice" in not taking responsibility for the fatal crash and "prolonging the agony" of the victims involved.
Ellson was sentenced to 10 months in prison, suspended for two years on Monday 16 January.
He also must carry out 270 hours of unpaid work and adhere to 20 days of rehabilitation activity requirement.He was also given a six-month electronically monitored curfew between the hours of 8pm and 5am, and banned from driving for three years.
Judge Everett told the packed courtroom that he understood that a lot of people would be unhappy with the sentence passed.
However, he said he was duty-bound to follow the "relevant guidelines", which include taking into account that the defendant was a 17-year-old when the collision happened.
In a victim impact statement, Miss Bugliarello's mum, Rebecca, said: "I will live with this for the rest of my life".
In a tribute after her death, Miss Bugliarello's mum, Rebecca, said: "We will never be able to accept the loss of our beautiful daughter, we still think she is going to come home.“In reality, we know this is not going to happen, however we leave her room as she left it that night.“This has ripped our family apart and left a huge void, never to be filled."
Miss Bugliarello, who was known to her friends as Frankie, was due to start a social care degree at the University of Nottingham and had dreamed of becoming a children’s social worker.
Owen Edwards, prosecuting, told the court that Miss Bugliarello, Miss Grice, and Miss Shorrock were all close friends and that it had been agreed early on that Ellson would drive them home from a party.
Mr Edwards said: "There was music and laughter in the car but little did she know she had minutes to live."
On the bypass - a single carriageway road - Ellson overtook a red Peugeot driving at around 45-50mph, reaching a speed limit of 60mph.Mr Edwards said that as the defendant pulled back into the correct lane the car was "swerving from side to side" and eventually spun out of control, with the back end of the vehicle colliding with the "safely parked" lorry.The court heard that the collision had a "catastrophic" impact on the Vauxhall and both Miss Bugliarello and Miss Shorrock were thrown out of the car, with their seatbelts "destroyed".
Mr Edwards told the court that a witness driving behind Ellson and the red Peugeot stopped at the scene and said the defendant told him: "I've killed her, I've killed her."Ellson was arrested and initially said that after overtaking the car in front he had put his full beam lights on and thought he had more time "to look at my dashboard" to check it was on.
Ellson added: "I thought the road was wider than what it was."Mr Edwards said Ellson later told Miss Grice, with whom he split from a short time after the crash, "to be brief" when speaking to the police, before changing his account to claim that she had pulled the steering wheel towards the lorry.
Mr Edwards said: "He falsely tried to blame her. She wasn't able to go to the funeral or directly mourn the loss of her friend."The court heard that Ellson eventually "realised the severity of what he'd done" and Miss Grice was "totally blameless". Mr Edwards said: "The collision occurred because a relatively inexperienced driver took his eye off the road, oversteered and lost control, leading to a fatal collision."Mark Connor, mitigating, told the court that his client had written a letter of apology to Miss Bugliarello's parents and that a pre-sentence report had shown he had "genuine remorse".
Mr Connor added: "He would have preferred to have lost his own life. His attempts to blame Miss Grice were wholly wrong - something he regrets.
"These errors in his decision making process were not a calculated plan but his inability to confront the enormity of the situation - taking responsibility for Francesca's death.
"He should have pleaded guilty at the first opportunity. It was not a wicked piece of driving, at the very least a careless piece of driving."Sentencing, Judge Everett said: "Nothing I can do can compensate for the devastating effect on Caitlin's family and the terrible injuries she sustained to her arm. What can a judge do to compensate? It's just not possible."We can only do our best to deal with a case according to the law. I recognise those who have written genuine, heartfelt, truthful statements will feel in a certain way. "Your momentary inattention - a matter of a split second - caused a lifetime of pain. It's difficult to look at your apology with any great enthusiasm."Judge Everett then commented on Ellson having two sides to his character - one where he had been "burying his head in the sand" and "keeping everyone waiting", and another where in references to the court he was described as a hard worker.Judge Everett added: "I'm not plucking this sentence out of thin air. This has been a most difficult and challenging sentence. I recognise there will be a lot of people not happy with this but it is following the law."
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