Seven years for death crash footballer

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A drunken professional footballer was jailed for seven years today for killing two young boys as he drove "like an idiot".

Arron Peak, 10, and his brother Ben, eight, were on a dream day out when former Plymouth Argyle goalkeeper Luke McCormick ploughed into their car in his powerful black Range Rover.

McCormick, who was more than twice the drink drive limit as he drove home from a team-mate's wedding, finally admitted causing death by dangerous driving when he appeared at Stoke-on-Trent Crown Court this morning.

The 25-year-old also admitted a charge of driving with excess alcohol.

The brothers, from Partington in Manchester, were travelling along the M6 in Staffordshire when the crash happened shortly before 5.45am on 7 June.

They were on their way to Silverstone racetrack for a day out with their father Phil Peak and three friends when their Toyota Previa people carrier was hit.

Mr Peak, 37, was at the wheel of the Toyota and was seriously injured in the crash.

The boys' mother, Amanda Peak, sobbed loudly as the court heard details of the crash today.

McCormick, dressed in a dark suit, kept his head bowed and covered his face with his hand as it was revealed he told eyewitnesses at the scene: "I am so sorry, I'm sorry. I just fell asleep. I fell asleep, I'm sorry."

Prior to the collision, other motorists noticed McCormick "driving like an idiot" and estimated his speed at around 90mph, the court heard.

After the crash, he was found to have 74 micrograms of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath. The legal limit is 35 micrograms of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath.

Coventry-born McCormick, who was confronted by angry relatives of Ben and Arron when he arrived at court today, is a former England youth international and was twice voted Argyle's young player of the season.

His contract with Argyle was cancelled by "mutual consent" a month after the crash.

In a victim statement submitted to the judge, Mr and Mrs Peak, told how their lives had been "totally devastated" by the deaths of their only children.

The couple wrote: "Our whole lives have been shattered ... all our hopes and dreams for the future have been taken away from us."

The court heard that McCormick sobbed "uncontrollably" at the police station after his arrest.

John Jones, defending, said McCormick had become introverted and suffered from nightmares and flashbacks of the crash.

He said: "He was a professional footballer with a potentially glittering future. His career would have developed; the rewards in every sense of the word would be limitless.

"That was lost and indeed lost forever. The Luke McCormick who appears before you today is a shadow of his former self."

Judge Paul Glenn jailed McCormick for seven years and four months. The maximum penalty is 14 years.

McCormick could have admitted the offences at a previous hearing but chose not to, forcing Ben and Arron's family to return to court today.

Relatives of the deceased Peak brothers punched the air and shouted "yes" when Judge Paul Glenn imposed his sentence.

The boys' parents, Phil and Amanda, cried silently.

McCormick, who had his head in his hands during the court hearing, looked shell shocked and was led away by two security guards.

He was also disqualified from driving for four years for causing death by dangerous driving.

Judge Paul Glenn imposed no separate penalty for drink driving but imposed a two year driving ban.

The court heard that McCormick was on his way to "sort out his love life" when the devastating crash happened.

John Jones QC, for the defence, said he was attending the wedding of former teammate David Norris in Bolton when he became upset at being "reminded" about malicious internet rumours concerning his fiancee's alleged infidelity.

Emails and remarks were posted on the social networking site Facebook about his fiancee, Mr Jones said.

He told the court: "The tenor of those emails and photographs was that his fiancee had been unfaithful. Such inferences were entirely false."

McCormick was seen openly crying at the wedding reception held in Rivington Barn, Bolton, and admitted to friends he felt ashamed for doing so.

PC Andy Kavanagh read a statement on behalf of Mr and Mrs Peak outside court.

The couple said: "We are pleased that at last Luke McCormick decided to face up to the fact he has caused the deaths of Arron and Ben.

"However, we are disappointed to discover that he will be eligible for parole after only three and a half years.

"In court his barrister spoke of the effect this case has had on Luke. We find this offensive.

"He will restart his life when he is still a young man. Our sons will never experience the things Luke has had.

"Phil will carry the scars of the incident for life. We will both carry the emotional scars forever."

Earlier Mr Jones had told the court that the rumours of infidelity explained McCormick's unhappy demeanour at the wedding.

"The fact such messages had been seen by the defendant and he had been reminded of them at the wedding caused a number of phone calls and text messages between himself and (fiancee) Miss Richardson. These confirmed what had been seen was malicious and false."

He said another reason McCormick left was because he had recently learned an uncle had been diagnosed with a terminal illness.

Prosecutor Robert Price said McCormick was heard saying "I've got to get myself to Coventry".

He also said he was seen drinking beer and downing shots of the spirit Sambuca.

The court heard McCormick disappeared from the wedding reception at around 2am on June 7. Mr Jones said he got around two hours sleep before rising and setting off for Coventry.

CCTV footage shows him leaving his hotel, the Ramada Jarvis, at 4.32am. He ignored a telephone plea from his room-mate Paul Maxwell, a physiotherapist, to stop driving immediately and pull over at services.

The court heard he passed at least three services on the M6 after receiving this call.

Mr Jones said McCormick covered 68 miles in one hour 12 minutes, and his petrol tank was virtually empty, when the collision occurred at 5.44am.

Judge Glenn told McCormick: "You prioritised your own perceived needs, including, it seems, sorting out your love life over the safety of other road users.

"There was no good reason why you couldn't have stayed in that hotel for a few more hours to get the rest you needed... you chose not to do that."

Judge Glenn said McCormick, who fell asleep at the wheel before the fatal crash, drove at inappropriate speeds, sometimes reaching in excess of 100mph.

He said he had rejected the sensible advice not to drive given by his friend, Paul Maxwell, driving past several service stations afterwards.

Judge Glenn said he displayed "seriously culpable behaviour" by driving when he knew he needed to rest, but acknowledged his behaviour was "out of character".

He offered his sympathies to the boys' parents. Mr Peak, who sat in a wheelchair wearing a neck brace, suffered broken vertebrae, a crushed spine, swollen lungs and a clot on his lungs, and will probably need surgery.

The court heard McCormick had spent five days in New York and after landing at Heathrow Airport he drove straight to Bolton to join the wedding party.

Mr Jones said he would have been suffering from jetlag, according to experts.

A leading UK expert in sleep deprivation and its effects on motorists concluded that McCormick was "at best semi-conscious" at the time of the crash, Staffordshire Police said.

Speaking outside court, Sergeant Steve Robinson said the case had been a "complex" one, drawing on the expertise of Professor Jim Horne from Loughborough University, forensic science experts, vehicle manufacturers and police collision investigators.

Time and distance calculations carried out by the investigating team established that McCormick's Range Rover was travelling at around 97mph immediately before the crash.

Speaking outside court, Sgt Robinson said: "We are pleased that Luke McCormick has pleaded guilty and hope that this gives some closure to the families and friends involved.

"This has been a devastating tragedy for all concerned, particularly for Phil and Amanda, for the Bennett family and for all family and friends.

"Luke was clearly driving excessively. He was driving dangerously and he was tired.

"He was also under the influence of alcohol. All these factors made Luke's driving quite horrendous."

In a separate statement, he added: "He would like to thank all witnesses who came forward following media appeals - one of whom was traced to Saudi Arabia.

"Information that was given was vital to the investigation and was corroborated by experts' findings.

"Philip sustained life-changing injuries and still has to wear a body cast. He may never fully recover from the injuries that he received.

"Amanda is unable to have any more children. The events of June 7 will cast a shadow over the rest of their lives."

He continued: "The incident was difficult for those officers who attended the scene and those who were involved in the investigation and they offer their deepest condolences to the families and friends that have been affected.

"Police forces across the country are constantly advising the public that driving under the influence of drink or drugs or being tired clearly creates danger to drivers, their passengers and other road users. As in this case, it can have devastating consequences."