Eighty hours of community service was the sentence for a man whom a jury found not guilty of causing death by dangerous driving, but guilty of dangerous driving.

Noel Vaughn Douglas, now 38, had been charged with driving a BMW dangerously on Linford Pierson Highway on Sept. 5, 2015, causing the death of Matthew Owens, 31. Mr. Owens was riding a motorcycle and was not wearing a crash helmet. The men were friends.

Background to the charge was provided by Crown counsel Scott Wainwright at the opening of the trial in March this year.

Conditions the night of the incident were good and there was a stretch of road where passing was possible. Mr. Douglas’s BMW was ahead of Mr. Owens’s motorcycle. The speed limit was 40 mph and there was evidence that both men were exceeding it.

Mr. Douglas went to overtake a vehicle in his lane and hit a car in the oncoming lane. Mr. Owens was an estimated 15 to 20 feet behind the BMW, which was not a safe distance, and he became involved in the collision.

Mr. Douglas denied that he and his friend were racing, but agreed, “We were going a little hard, yes.”

Mr. Owens was found to be just over the legal limit for alcohol consumption, with a reading of .105. Mr. Douglas was under the limit, at .093. The legal limit is .100.

In passing sentence, Justice Stephen Hellman pointed out that a person who drinks is “under a special duty to take extra care.”

The judge noted that the law does not allow for a sentence to be suspended in such a case and, in his opinion, it was not suitable for a financial penalty. He accepted the mitigation put forward by defense attorney Nicholas Dixey and imposed an order for 80 hours of community service.

Mr. Dixey had told the court that, in typical cases, the family of the deceased wanted a defendant punished. In this case, Mr. Owens’s family had been very supportive of Mr. Douglas, even writing to the Director of Public Prosecutions asking that he not be prosecuted.

Mr. Douglas had stayed close to Mr. Owens’s family and had done community work in his friend’s memory, the attorney noted. He submitted letters of reference from people he said would normally hesitate to put pen to paper. He said Mr. Douglas had given evidence in his trial with courage and dignity, assisting the jury as best he could.

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  1. As I said in these columns before:
    In an argument between a motorcycle and a car the motorcycle always loses.

    My father taught me some 50 years ago: When you are driving imagine you are invisible.
    Imagine the car alongside cannot see you nor the pedestrian on the road ahead. Leave a good gap between you and the vehicle ahead. You will avoid a lot of accidents.

    A few years ago I was driving across the Howard Franklin bridge between St. Pete and Tampa. There was an 18-wheeler ahead of me and I had left a good gap between us.
    There was suddenly an explosion and one of that vehicles tires ripped apart. It came flying towards me. Luckily I had left enough space and was able to swerve out of the way.

    The pickup truck on my tail was less lucky.