Andrew Armstrong, an alcoholic, was seen clutching a bottle of vodka at the wheel of his car shortly before he crashed into the cyclists. He was found to have been more than three times over the limit, after draining the bottle.
Yesterday, Armstrong, 36, an unemployed lift engineer, wept in the dock as a judge told him his actions had shattered countless lives. He had pleaded guilty to three charges of causing death by dangerous driving.
Judge David Hodson told him: "Your thoroughly outrageous and irresponsible behaviour has killed three admirable, hard-working family men and ruined the lives of their loved ones. It's also wrecked your own life and that of your own family.
"Nothing that this court can do can bring back those you have killed and any sentence will be seen by the families of the deceased as inadequate. In a sense those families would be right."
Newcastle Crown Court heard that five days before Christmas Armstrong had bought a half bottle of the spirit, which he drank at an allotment near his home at Seaton Sluice, Northumberland.
Afterwards he set off, driving erratically on the coast road in his Ford Mondeo, planning to take a walk on the beach. An off-duty policeman out jogging had to dive on to the pavement to avoid the car. He saw that Armstrong had the bottle close to his mouth.
It was on this road that Armstrong hit four cyclists, who were on the way home from a cycling trip. Bryan Harrison, 38, his brother Alan, 33, and their brother-in-law Don Smith, 49, were killed. Mr Smith's son-in- law Ray Walls, 25, suffered a broken leg and fractured right hip.
Mr Walls remembered landing among debris on a grass verge. He was then confronted with a "scene of carnage", the court heard. Armstrong, who was also banned from driving for 15 years, had not spotted the cyclists until just before his windscreen shattered.
The car, which was travelling at up to 60mph, came to a rest 50 metres away. Armstrong later asked: "Have I killed someone?"
After the case, Peter Harrison, who has lost two brothers, called for a ban on all drinking and driving.
"What's a safe limit?" he asked. "It's only after a tragedy like this that people find their own limit - regardless of the law. Nobody who has had a drink should drive a car.
"No amount of time in prison will change what has happened. This has devastated everybody, especially the children. Now he has been sentenced we can try and put it behind us. Time will tell."Reuse content