Drunken rugby player locked up over car crash that killed team-mate

A RUGBY player who was driving at 30mph over the speed limit while twice over the legal drink limit when his car careered off a road, killing his friend and rugby team-mate, was yesterday locked up for four years.

Victim Gareth Swift, 19, a Featherstone Rovers first team player, died when the car being driven by reserve team player Charles Tosh, who himself suffered severe injuries in the smash, crashed off the road into a tree and landed on its roof.

Yesterday in a statement, Mr Swift's mother Tracey Milner told Leeds Crown Court how losing her son "had destroyed her heart and soul" and was akin to feeling like she had been killed too.

Tosh, who was also then 19, and Mr Swift had been to watch a rugby match and had spent the day drinking together.

Tosh had left the VW Polo he was using at a friend's house with the intention of not driving, but had returned around 10.30pm and decided to drive himself and his friend.

They set off along the A655 Black Road, Normanton, Wakefield, where two motorists reported seeing Tosh driving erratically, overtaking where it was inappropriate, and reaching speeds that one of the drivers estimated to be 70mph on a road where the speed restriction is 40mph.

Heather Gilmore, prosecuting, said Tosh was found to be just over twice the legal drink-drive limit following the accident.

She told the court Mr Swift "was a much-loved young man and he was highly regarded by all those who he came into contact with".

Police investigations on the A655 where the crash happened indicated Tosh was driving at 70mph when the accident occurred, she added.

Tosh had pleaded guilty to causing Mr Swift's death by dangerous driving at an earlier hearing.

Sentencing him to four years in a young offender institution and disqualifying him from driving for five years, Judge James Spencer, QC, said yesterday: ". . . it was you, of course, who was driving when this dreadful accident happened.

"It happened because you drove too fast when you were unfit to drive and the consequence was awful, your friend was dead."

Tosh, now 20, of Chequerfield Drive, Pontefract, was critically ill and fought for life after suffering a catalogue of injuries, including a broken neck, following the horrific smash which happened on April 24 last year.

He did not leave hospital until June and has amazed doctors with his recovery, the court heard.

John Goodwin, defending, said his client was filled with remorse for what had happened and said if he could swap places with Mr Swift he would do.

He told the court Tosh had pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity.

Mr Swift, of Wheatley Avenue, Normanton, was a student and talented semi-professional rugby player. Members of his family were in court for the case.

Team-mates had dedicated their season to him last year and hundreds of flowers, messages and rugby shirts were left on the gates of the club's Post Office Road ground in tribute to him.

Speaking afterwards his mother paid tribute to the "outgoing" young player.

"He always put everyone else's feelings before himself," she said.

"He is going to be very sorely missed by everyone, rugby was his life, from being seven.

"He was only 19 years old but he packed so much into his life and everybody had respect for him."

She said she hoped the case serves as a reminder to other 18- and 19-year-olds of the heartache that drink-driving could bring to mothers and families.

Mr Swift, a hooker, had been out of the game with a broken leg but was back in training and on the verge or returning when the tragedy happened.

Having started his rugby career at Normanton Knights ARLFC he was considered to have a promising career ahead of him

At his funeral held at St John the Baptist Church, Normanton, last May hundreds of mourners paid their respects.

Rovers head coach Daryl Powell said Gareth Swift was tough, strong and enthusiastic player and an exceptional leader.

"He was the life and soul of the party at the club and everybody loved his company," he added.

Mr Powell added: "It was a pleasure to know him and I know he will live in the hearts and minds of everybody who knew him."