Driver admits killing friend in car chase

DEIDRE MUSSEN
Last updated 14:21 13/05/2014
Jordan Nathaniel McGrath
John Kirk-Anderson/Fairfax NZ

DANGEROUS DRIVING: Jordan Nathaniel McGrath, pictured at his Greymouth High Court appearance, pleaded guilty to manslaughter over the death of his friend Judd Hall, 26.

Judd Hall
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JUDD HALL: Was the rear passenger in a car that crashed into a Greymouth house.
Murray Stewart and Joe Hall
John Kirk-Anderson/Fairfax NZ
HAND SHAKE: Murray Stewart, left, the father of Jordan Nathaniel McGrath, meets Judd's parents, Joe Hall, centre, and Rick "Rowdy" Durbridge, outside court in Greymouth.

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A young West Coast man has admitted killing his friend in a high-speed fatal car crash in Greymouth after a brief police chase in January, the Greymouth High Court has heard today.

Jordan Nathaniel McGrath, 28, pleaded guilty to manslaughter over the death of his Runanga friend, Judd Hall, 26, who was a backseat passenger.

He also admitted charges of dangerous driving causing injury to a second passenger, Kori Jeffcoat, and drink-driving for a third or subsequent time.

Justice Warwick Gendall, who presided over the hearing via video-link from Christchurch, convicted McGrath on the three charges and remanded him on bail to a Dillmanstown address until his sentencing on July 7 at 11.45am.

He prohibited McGrath from driving, requested a pre-sentence report and told McGrath he would get his first warning under the three strikes law due to his manslaughter conviction.

It meant if he was convicted of another violent or serious offence and was sentenced to jail, he would have to serve the entire sentence without parole or early release, Gendall said.

While a summary of facts was not read in court today, police previously said the white Subaru sped past a patrol car on Greymouth's main road, High St, on January 24, prompting the police officer to initiate a chase.

That only lasted about 10 seconds before the car flipped while rounding a corner by Grey Base Hospital and slammed upside down into a nearby house.

McGrath's lawyer, Richard Bodle, told the court today that McGrath had already met Hall's family in an informal restorative justice meeting, which had proved a positive process.

He wanted to repeat that in a formal restorative justice meeting.

Hall's family, who was in court today, had agreed to the formal meeting which would ''basically, hopefully, assist the healing process for both families'', Bodle said.

McGrath, who was impaled through his abdomen by a piece of wood and spent weeks in Christchurch Hospital, was due to have an operation on his back in a few weeks time.

''He would like to have that done prior to what he sees as the inevitable sentence.''

He also needed a psychiatric evaluation relating to his mental state due to stress from the crash and was also having ongoing physiotherapy for his injuries.

The maximum penalty for manslaughter is life imprisonment, dangerous driving causing injury has a maximum of five years in jail and the drinking-driving charge has a maximum two-year jail term.

Outside court, Hall's mother, Joe Hall, said she was unsurprised by McGrath's guilty pleas because he had admitted his guilt to her and her partner Rick (Rowdy) Durbridge when they met a few weeks ago.

''I felt like it was right, just the way he stood in the dock and owned it. I'm relieved that that part is over,'' she said.

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Durbridge agreed.

''Because of his guilty pleas, he's shortened the process. He's taken responsibility for everything and some more, I feel.'' 

Joe Hall said the restorative justice meeting was ''a way of moving forward and it is a healthy way''.

It was easier to cope with Judd's death because McGrath had been accountable for his actions by pleading guilty at the first opportunity, which was very different to the court case after the death of their second son, Jessop, 7, who was run over by a drunk woman in Motueka on Mother's Day in 1990.

Joe Hall said the driver denied her actions and fought a manslaughter prosecution, which caused lasting hatred towards her by her family.

The woman was ultimately found guilty by a judge of dangerous driving causing death and drink-driving, and served about a year of a two-year jail sentence, she said.

''It is so much easier this time without the hatred.''

She spoke to McGrath and his family before and after today's hearing, discussing how they were coping and about their next meeting.

- The Press

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