IT was a race that ended in death.
But the teenage motorist who died while racing another car along a road had been a “voluntary participant” in what was going on, a court heard yesterday.
Matthew Dowie, 19, was killed when his Renault Megane careered off Wakefield Road in Lepton, ploughed through a stone wall and landed in a field.
The other driver was today starting a four-and-a-half-year jail term.
Bradford Crown Court heard that moments before the crash, Mr Dowie, of Flockton, had been racing Matthew Birkby’s Vauxhall Corsa at more than 80 mph.
Birkby, 22, of Albany Road, Dalton, Huddersfield, pleaded guilty to causing death by dangerous driving and using a vehicle with two defective tyres.
Jailing him, Judge Robert Bartfield said both men had turned a public road into a racetrack.
He said: “The deceased threw down a challenge to you and you took it up. What follows over half a mile to one mile on an A-road was the use of a public road as a racetrack by the two of you.”
Referring to Mr Dowie’s tragic death, the judge said: “Unhappily, he was a voluntary participant in this.”
Birkby, an apprentice air-conditioning engineer, was also banned from driving for five years and will have to take an extended test before driving again.
Simon Baptiste, prosecuting, said Birkby and Mr Dowie had both been driving dangerously, each encouraging the other to do so.
Four weeks before the fatal crash, Birkby had been warned by a police officer about the speed at which he approached the scene of a road accident at Wakefield Road when the road surface was wet.
On the day of the fatality, November 4 last year, Birkby was driving an 11-year-old Corsa that he had customised by lowering the suspension and fitting a two-litre engine in place of the original 1.4 litres.
The car also bore a personalised registration plate, M444TYB, closely resembling ‘MATTYB’.
Mr Dowie had set off that day with a friend to drive to Manchester, where he was intending to buy a new car.
The friend, Paul Wood, later recalled to police how they saw Birkby’s Corsa in front of them and overtook it and several other vehicles on the nearside, said Mr Baptiste.
Birkby then overtook them and Mr Dowie tried to catch up with him.
At one stage they were travelling side by side and an oncoming car flashed its headlights as a warning.
Mr Dowie tried to pull back into the traffic, but lost control and the car left the road.
Mr Baptiste said several witnesses had described seeing the two black cars being driven at high speed.
The Megane was seen going the wrong side of some bollards before it went out of control, hit the kerb and crashed through a wall.
A police accident investigator later concluded that the driver had swerved too sharply and the Megane had become airborne before landing in the field.
It was also discovered that the Corsa’s two front tyres had less than the legal tread depth.
Birkby, who had driven from the scene, was traced due to the car’s distinctive registration.
When interviewed by the police, he denied he had been racing, but admitted he had been driving at between 50 and 60 mph on the 30 mph stretch of road where the crash happened.
Christopher Tehrani, for Birkby, said his client was a self-made young man whose character had dramatically changed since the accident. It had had a “devastating effect” on him and he had shown a degree of remorse.
Passing sentence, Judge Bartfield said Birkby had shown an “arrogant and dishonest attitude” towards the police.
“In my judgement you told a pack of lies from beginning to end,” he added.
The judge said he could well understand, as a parent himself, Mr Dowie’s parents feeling that a sentence in double figures would be appropriate in the case.
But he added: “Nothing can bring back this boy’s life.
“People must realise that the Court of Appeal has issued guidelines to judges like myself and I respect those guidelines.”