TRIBUTES FLOWING: Jemal Lawton. Contributed

Tears flow at Rockhampton hit-and-run sentence

A ROCKHAMPTON court overflowed with sobbing friends and family of hit-and-run victim Jemal Lawton yesterday as a judge handed down a prison sentence to the 21-year-old guilty of his death.

Noa Ronnie Etheridge cried as he was sentenced in Rockhampton District Court to six years' imprisonment with parole eligibility after two years after pleading guilty to one count of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death and leaving the scene.

The court heard Etheridge's licence was disqualified for two years a month before he hit Jemal, 17, at 2am on March 29 last year.



He was driving a mechanically defective car which belonged to somebody else, he was speeding and he had been drinking on the night before he ran down Jemal.

Etheridge, who is the father of a four-year-old boy, was travelling at speeds of between 68kmh and 82kmh when he hit Jemal on Rockonia Rd.

Jemal suffered critical injuries and his life support was turned off at the Royal Brisbane Hospital on April 8.

Etheridge's legal team reported him to police two days after the incident.

A witness impact statement from Louise Richardson, who was a passenger in the car, revealed graphic evidence of the moment the car Etheridge was driving slammed into Jemal.

"We were taking the back streets to his mum's house to avoid police," the statement read.

"We were yelling and screaming and taking photos and the music was real loud.

"Noa had his head out the window and he was yelling.

"He was driving real fast around corners and I know that because I was getting thrown around in the back seat.

"All of a sudden, I saw something in front of the car and the windscreen came in.

"I saw someone's face on it.

"They rolled up the windscreen and down one side.

"I felt like we had hit something."

Ms Richardson said Etheridge did not brake, slow down or swerve.

"I asked if we were at least going to stop and (Etheridge) said no," the statement read.

"I asked if we could at least ring the ambulance and they all yelled not to."

Prosecutor Joshua Phillips said Etheridge covered the damaged car with a tarpaulin and removed the number plates.

"He made an attempt to cover up and avoid responsibility," Mr Phillips said.

"He showed a lack of true remorse of taking someone's life and complete self interest in avoiding incarceration.

"He was almost cynical or clinical in his submissions to police."

The owner of the car, Jordan Smith, said Etheridge was apologising to him the morning after the incident and said he would give Smith his own car to "fix him up".

A straight-faced Etheridge read a written statement from behind custody glass.

"There is nothing I can give back for what I have taken from him and his family," he said.

"I cannot forgive myself and I am not asking for forgiveness.

"From the bottom of my heart I will always be sorry."

Judge Ian Dearden said he was saddened by the case when sentencing Etheridge to six years in prison with a parole release date after two years.

"This is the saddest job I do as a sentencing judge," he said.

"Most chillingly, once you collided with Jemal you took off and concealed the car.

"Like ripples on a pond, the loss of Jemal will spread far and wide."

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