Matthew David Sommerville, 22, has been convicted over a fatal 2018 crash at Newton Boyd.
Matthew David Sommerville, 22, has been convicted over a fatal 2018 crash at Newton Boyd.

South Grafton man avoids jail over crash that killed friend

A 22-year-old South Grafton man has been spared a full-time prison sentence after facing court over a fatal crash that claimed the life of a 20-year-old man when the car they were in rolled down an embankment at Newton Boyd.

Matthew David Sommerville and three friends had gone on a camping trip in September 2018 to a remote area west of Grafton, but after a night of drinking a decision to go visit another friend ended in tragedy when the vehicle the four men were in left the road, rolled several times down an embankment, and killed 20-year-old James Bowling.

Sommerville appeared in Grafton Local Court last week where he was sentenced after pleading guilty to negligent driving occasioning death, negligent driving occasioning grievous bodily harm and driving with low range PCA.

The court was told that Sommerville and three friends had arranged to go camping and on the afternoon of Friday, September 14, 2018 Sommerville drove to the campsite alone, arriving before his friends, sometime between 5pm and 5.30pm.

Court documents reveal that after arriving Sommerville set up his camper trailer and began drinking, and about 30 minutes later the remainder of the group arrived at the campsite.

The agreed facts state that over the next few hours the group drank while playing games such as beer pong, with Sommerville later telling police he drank between six to seven full strength stubbies, but only ate snacks shared by the group.

At around 10pm the court documents reveal group decided to go for a drive to visit another friend that lived further west on Old Glen Innes Rd. Police investigations indicate that at the time the weather was fine and dry.

The four men got into Sommerville's vehicle, a Nissan Patrol, and Sommerville began driving west from the campsite along Old Glen Innes Rd. The group travelled around 3.2km before approaching a sweeping right-hand bend, which court documents state was clearly signposted.

The court was told Sommerville drove wide into the blind corner at a speed of around 50-60km/h, and as he began to turn right, due to the speed and the gravel surface, he failed to navigate the turn and the vehicle went over the embankment, rolling multiple times before coming to rest in the shallow edge of the river.

Matthew David Sommerville, 22, has been convicted over a fatal 2018 crash at Newton Boyd.
Matthew David Sommerville, 22, has been convicted over a fatal 2018 crash at Newton Boyd.

Sommerville and two others were able to get themselves free from the vehicle however Bowling was unconscious, and the others were not able to get him out of the wreck.

After freeing themselves from the vehicle the three men walked back to the campsite where they got into another vehicle and drove west again to look for assistance. They travelled some distance before they were able to come across a farmhouse with lights on, where they were able to call for help.

When emergency service arrived the three received medical treatment while police attempted to find the vehicle. A short time later Sommerville directed police and ambulance officers to the scene of the crash. Court documents reveal that once emergency services found the wreck they discovered Bowling had suffered fatal injuries and he was declared dead in the vehicle.

Another 20-year-old was later flown to Armidale Hospital in a serious condition and had suffered a fractured clavicle which required surgical insertion of pins and plates. A 19-year-old male also suffered a fractured clavicle, fractured ribs and a cut to the forehead.

Court documents reveal that crash scene investigators examined the roadway at the crash scene and found it free of any potholes or anything that would have likely contributed to the crash, and there were no road markings or debris to indicate mechanical failure.

Sommerville later provided a breath analysis some time after the crash, with investigations revealing his blood alcohol level would have been between 0.074 and 0.164.

Court documents state that Sommerville told police at the time "I've realised I was going slightly too fast for the grade of the corner. (I) braked and slid off the cliff".

In Grafton Local Court on Wednesday magistrate Kathy Crittenden sentenced Sommerville to a 12-month intensive corrections order, with 200 hours community service. The court also disqualified Sommerville from holding a driver's licence for two years.