UPDATE: Judge's findings on reducing hit-and-run sentence

Jemal Lawton's mother, Melissa Hixon, and family, outside court in Rockhampton last year.
Jemal Lawton's mother, Melissa Hixon, and family, outside court in Rockhampton last year. Emma Clarke

UPDATE: A MAN who should not have been driving when he killed a teenager in a hit and run two years ago will serve four months less jail time.

While he was serving a two-year licence disqualification, Noa Ronnie Etheridge, now 22, ploughed into Jemal Lawton, 17.

TRIBUTES FLOWING: Jemal Lawton. Contributed

Etheridge was sentenced to six years in jail after pleading guilty to dangerous driving causing the death in Rockhampton in March 2014.

But Etheridge has successfully argued in the Queensland Court of Appeal that the sentence was manifestly excessive.

Justice Philip Morrison, in a judgment handed down on Friday, said the appeal court took into account the callousness of leaving the scene of the impact and "leaving a man for dead".

"Yet that still does not, in my view, put this particular offence at the highest end of offences for dangerous operation of a vehicle causing death," he said.

"Serious as the driving of Mr Etheridge was, and aggravated as it was by the fact that he knew he should not drive and he was affected by alcohol and drugs, the driving was not, in my view, at the most serious end of the spectrum.

"Speed was involved, well above the speed limit and such as to make it unlikely that Mr Etheridge could react meaningfully to any obstacle in the road, but it was not extreme or prolonged.

"The time of day would lead to the reasonable expectation that it was unlikely that persons would be on the road. 

"True it is that the roads were selected in order to avoid detection by the police but that says nothing about the manner of driving as opposed to the belief of Mr Etheridge as to whether he should be driving or not.

"It is the fact that Mr Etheridge's consumption of alcohol and cannabis could not be linked to the manner of his driving, and there is no doubt that was the result of his fleeing the scene and not revealing his involvement for some days.

"It may be said that is an unpalatable circumstance to the overall justice of the case, especially as Mr Etheridge was 'selected' to drive on the night, not because he was unaffected by the alcohol and cannabis he had consumed, but because he was the least affected of his group.

"It is nonetheless the fact that the consumption was not linked to the manner of driving. 

"Therefore an objective analysis of the offending conduct reveals that, knowing that he was disqualified and possibly affected by alcohol and cannabis, Mr Etheridge drove at a speed well above the speed limit, such that when a person on the road was encountered, he could not avoid hitting. 

"However, that is not at the highest level of offending driving for this offence."

The appeal court reduced Etheridge's head sentence to five years jail.

He was to be eligible to apply for parole from October 14, 2017, but will now be released on parole on June 15 next year.

Etheridge, then 20 and employed as a plumbing apprentice, had been drinking and smoking dope at a party before deciding to drive home with friends to his mother's house.

The father of one was one month into a two-year licence disqualification, and the car he was driving had defective brakes and broken headlights.

He was driving at 68-82kmh on Rockonia Rd when he struck Jemal about 3am.

A witness in the car said Etheridge "kept putting his head out the window and screaming" and "the music was up real loud" when suddenly they saw a person's face on the windscreen.

Jemal Lawton, who was standing on the road, landed about 30m from where he was hit and rolled a further 10m, receiving multiple skull fractures, brain hemorrhages and numerous internal injuries.

Despite knowing he had hit someone, Etheridge did not stop or phone an ambulance. He concealed the damaged car and removed its number plates.

Two days later he went to police with his lawyers and confessed.

The victim spent 10 days in a critical condition before his life support was switched off.

At his original sentencing, Etheridge told the court there was nothing he could give back to replace what he had taken from Jemal's family.

"I'm not asking for forgiveness but I need everybody to know from the bottom of my heart that I am and always will be sorry," he said.


Topics:  appeal, dangerous driving, editors picks, hit and run, jemal lawton, noa ronnie etheridge, rockhampton

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