Dad slams ‘ridiculous’ nine-year sentence for drunk van driver who killed his kids

Four-year-old Gracie-Ann Lucas and her three-year-old brother Jayden-Lee Lucas died within days of an accident on the M4 caused by Martin Newham

The children who were killed
Jayden-Lee and Gracie-Ann Wheaton died after an accident on the M4 near Newport

A father has slammed the nine-year sentence for a drunk van driver who killed two of his children.

Four-year-old Gracie-Ann Lucas and her three-year-old brother Jayden-Lee Lucas were traveling home from a birthday party with their mother Rhiannon Lucas and a friend when their car was hit by a van on the M4.

Both siblings, also known by the surname Wheaton, died within days.

It was later heard in court that 41-year-old Newman was intoxicated on alcohol and drugs when he crashed into a stationary vehicle on the M4 in Newport, Wales.

Police discovered that Newman had more than doubled his drunk driving after going out with co-workers the night before the accident and had been drinking 10 cans of Strongbow and was on cocaine by the time he returned to his hotel room.

Newman told police he was shaken and “nodded off” a number of times on his journey back to Wales the next day.

The family at Sirhowy Valley Crematorium in Pontllanfraith, Blackwood, Wales


WalesOnline/Rob Browne)

At a sentencing hearing, Newman – who admitted two counts of fatalities from dangerous driving and one of serious injuries to the children’s mother, Rhiannon Lucas, from dangerous driving, as well as drunk driving and drug driving charges – was sentenced to nine years and four months.

He will serve just over four years and the remainder of his sentence will be on licence.

The family of the siblings is appealing for a change in the law.

Joseph Wheaton, 24, said: “This has been the worst year of my life. From hearing the news that my kids were in a car accident to walking into the hospital room, I looked at both of my kids and it just didn’t seem right, it broke my heart.”

Mr Wheaton said doctors initially told them Jayden was stable but Gracie-Ann was not. Gracie-Ann died the day after the February 6 crash, while Jayden-Lee died five days later.

The children were killed in a collision by a dangerous driver who seriously injured their mother



Mr Wheaton. said: “I blew raspberries on his stomach because I thought he was going to get around a bit and instead he farted and I was like ‘he must be in there’ because he was always a funny boy and he has eased the tension a bit.

“Before Jayden died, we all had to sit down and talk about it and turn it off, and I just kept saying, ‘No, I’m not ready to let him go yet. I can’t do it I’m not leaving yet, I’m not ready yet.

“He breathed for about 10 minutes after it was taken away and that was it. And then it ripped us all to pieces. It ruined us.”

The Attorney General’s office has confirmed that an appeal has been received against Newman’s sentence under the Unduly Lenient Sentence (ULS) scheme.

“It’s ridiculous how they can only give him nine and a half years and it’s split in half,” Mr Wheaton said.

“This man in court said, ‘I just want to see my children’ and I thought, ‘how disrespectful, I can’t see my children’, on birthdays and Christmas I have to go to a cemetery to see my babies’.”

The family are seeking a life sentence for Newman over the accident.

Newman was sentenced to nine years and four months in prison. He was also stripped of his driver’s license for 10 years with an extension of four years and eight months while in custody. Before he can regain his driver’s license, he must pass an extended driving test.

“It killed me, it absolutely ripped me in half because I knew I’d never see her again,” Mr. Wheaton said. “How many times I’ve almost said, ‘How are the kids,’ and it hits you.”

During the sentencing hearing, Justice Williams said his sentencing powers had been limited by guidelines set by Parliament. He said: “The aggravating factors are that you have previously been convicted of traffic offences, including drunk driving and using a mobile phone while driving, and secondly, the most serious aggravating factor is that you are responsible for the death of two children and the serious injury of their mother have caused, which is deprived.

“In this case there is no real mitigation. Any remorse you feel instead of self-pity has no bearing on the verdict this court must hand down.

“They have a limited understanding of the wider implications for others affected by the collision. As this was a single incident, the court has a duty to impose simultaneous penalties but, as far as possible, to reflect the totality of your offenses in the judgment rendered.

“The maximum penalty is 14 years in prison. Many feel that such a penalty is insufficient to reflect what you have done and there will be many who will call for this maximum penalty to be reviewed.

“This is not a matter for a court other than Parliament. They pleaded guilty at the first opportunity and a reduction cannot be denied because the maximum sentence is insufficient.”

The children’s grandfather and father of Rhiannon Lucas, Jason Lucas, 52, said of the driver: “He deserves two life sentences. We want the law to change, not just for us, but for other families so they don’t have to go through this. He should be banned for life and in prison for life.

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