Liam Mclean’s sister saw him for the last time as he lay in a coffin, half his face unrecognisable after being thrown out of Ethan Stewart’s speeding car.
She recalled holding his cold hand and for a long time afterwards, struggling to do normal things like showering and getting out of bed.
“At 16 years old I said goodbye to my brother,” she said, breaking down as she read out her victim impact statement at the Auckland High Court moments before her brother’s killer was sentenced, “I was meant to do so many things with him”.
On November 26, 2020, an 18-year-old Mclean was in the passenger seat of Stewart’s accelerating Toyota when it went off the road in rural West Auckland, entering a deep drain twice before rolling violently and throwing Mclean out on to the roadside.
The car kept going until it went down a grass embankment, striking a boundary fence before it finally came to a stop.
Mclean suffered multiple injuries and died at the scene.
Stewart, then 24 and not holding a valid licence, was found still conscious in the driver’s seat and taken to hospital.
Tests showed he had 162 milligrams of alcohol per 100ml of blood, more than three times the legal limit. He told police he had drunk nearly a litre of cider.
“You destroyed our family that day with your decision to drink and drive, and you’ve expressed no remorse,” Mclean’s mother said, addressing Stewart who sat in the dock bent over, his face hidden.
She recalled going to see Stewart after her son’s funeral to talk to him and encourage him to change. “I wanted you to know this was an opportunity to make a different choice in your life, I knew you had a long road ahead,” said the mental health nurse.
“But you didn’t. The fact you couldn’t do this after killing my son makes me feel sick.”
Mclean was a “beautiful young man” with a big heart who wouldn’t let people go unheard or go without, and was always bringing friends home, she said.
“He was supposed to be a part of my life every day till I died.”
Two years after losing her son, she has had to keep putting one foot in front of the other to care for others.
“But it’s a struggle every day. There are days I can’t be at work because I just keep crying,” she said.
Crown prosecutor Brian Dickey said Stewart was only 24 at the time, but already had three prior convictions for drink-driving, two for driving while disqualified, and one for dangerous driving, which was an aggravating factor.
His guilty plea avoided putting Mclean’s family through a painful trial, but it was entered late in the piece, Dickey said.
In his defence, Stewart’s lawyer Shane Killian said he had been subject to physical, mental, and sexual abuse from a young age, and suffered from ADHD and opposition defiance disorder.
“The damage caused by alcohol abuse while still in the womb, and as a toddler, would have had a significant effect on his development,” Killian said.
Justice Geoffrey Venning sentenced Stewart to three years-and-six months in jail and disqualified him from driving for four years.
Referring to his psychological and probation reports, Venning said the young man was not close to his family other than a brother who recently died.
The oldest of four children, he was raised by his grandparents until his mother took over their care when he was four.
He was moved into state care when he was 11, and when he turned 16 stayed with various family members and also independently.
He had a limited education, having had difficulty with reading and writing but was able to work as a mechanic, Venning said.
“The major issue here is your problematic addiction to and abuse of alcohol. Your comments to the probation officer do not show that you recognise this as a problem,” Venning said in sentencing.
“You said you didn’t want to drive but felt you had no choice because you had to return the car to your mum.”
Now 26, Stewart had a partner and two children with whom he was supposed to be staying while on bail but was recently found breaching bail away in Auckland.
“You are a troubled young man lacking direction,” the judge told him.
“You could still turn your life around, although it would require a complete change of attitude to alcohol, and serious support.”
*This story originally appeared in the New Zealand Herald.
Story Credit: rnz.co.nz