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Five Years Jail For Killing Best Friend

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Palmerston North, Dec 2 NZPA - A teenager whose night of heavy drinking ended with the death of his best friend in a road smash has been jailed for five years and has no hope of regaining a driver's licence until he turns 26.

During sentence in Palmerston North High Court this morning, Ben Victor Jagger, who turned 19 two days ago, wept as he was told the June 6 crash that killed passenger Nathan Conlon and injured occupants of another vehicle was the act of "reckless bravado and arrogant youth".

"Yours is yet another terrible example of the tragedies that invariably result when young people get into high-powered motor vehicles...and they are driven at a dangerously high speed in acts of wanton bravado," Justice Warwick Gendall said.

Jagger's actions were indicative of a boy racer culture of which New Zealand was tired.

"It was a disgraceful, reckless accident. The sentence must act as a deterrent to other young men...who think that this sort of activity and driving causes no harm, and is their entitlement."

Jagger, of Bunnythorpe, near Palmerston North, was himself seriously injured in the crash. He was found to have 190 micrograms of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood -- six times the legal limit for his age. Traces of cannabis were also in his blood.

His Nissan Silvia, which witnesses reckoned to have been travelling at between 120-150kmh in the 50kmh-zoned Palmerston North suburb of Milson, was strewn with empty RTD bottles.

After striking a tree, the car then crossed the median stip and collided with an oncoming Toyota Hilux, injuring two of the five occupants. Experts reckoned the car had skidded uncontrollably for 75 metres.

Nathan Conlon, 17, of Feilding, was thrown out the back of the Nissan and died from head injuries the following night.

Justice Gendall said he was particularly appalled that, within two months of the incident, Jagger was stopped again for drunk driving, his fourth driving offence since the age of 16.

The district court judge who subsequently disqualified and fined Jagger would not have known that the teen was about to face more serious charges.

The incident showed Jagger had learned nothing from the fatal crash.

The community had "had enough" of a boy racer culture that was either oblivious to the law, or thought itself above it.

"You were quite happy to describe yourself colloquially as a boy racer, and you told the probation officer that you enjoyed the boy racer culture," Justice Gendall told Jagger.

Jagger had said he could not remember the crash, or anything that had happened a couple of hours prior. His last memory had been of playing rugby, having several beers, then going home for a shower. Conlon had been with him since that morning.

That Jagger had not contested the charges he faced - Conlon's manslaughter and two counts of causing injury while under the influence - in an initial appearance in Palmerston North District Court on October 15 was not a mitigating factor, Justice Gendall said.

However, it meant a Court of Appeal ruling on sentence reduction for guilty pleas had to come into play, affecting what would otherwise be a 7-1/2 year sentence. The prosecution's call for a minimum sentence of 8-1/2 to 9 years was too high, he said.

Defence lawyer Fergus Steedman said his client took full responsibility for the death of a "best friend and brother" and wished he could trade places with Nathan Conlon.

In a letter read out to the court, Jagger also apologised to the victim's family, and said the crash would stay with him, mentally and physically.

He accepted he would face a long term of imprisonment, and wished to make something of his life on release. "I wish to make a good life in honour of Nathan."

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