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Drunk van driver who killed brother and sister in M4 crash jailed

Jayden-Lee Lucas, three, and four-year-old Gracie-Ann Wheaton died following the crash (Family handout/PA)
Jayden-Lee Lucas, three, and four-year-old Gracie-Ann Wheaton died following the crash (Family handout/PA)

A drink and cocaine-fuelled van driver who killed two young children and injured their mother in a motorway crash has been jailed for nine years and four months.

Martin Newman, 41, admitted causing the deaths by dangerous driving of Jayden-Lee Lucas, three, and his four-year-old sister, Gracie-Ann Wheaton, at 1.45pm on Saturday February 5.

He further admitted seriously injuring their mother, Rhiannon Lucas, being twice over the drink-driving limit and having traces of cocaine in his system.

Martin Newman
Martin Newman has been jailed for nine years (Gwent Police/PA)

Ms Lucas’s family have expressed anger at the sentence and said they will appeal for a harsher punishment that better reflects the loss of two children.

Judge Daniel Williams acknowledged some will find the sentence “inadequate”, but he said only Parliament can change the law.

The family, from Tredegar, had been returning from a birthday party and were heading to Techniquest in Cardiff when their car was hit by Newman’s Ford Transit on the M4 between junctions 28 and 29 near Newport.

They had pulled over on to the hard shoulder after Gracie-Ann complained of having a bad stomach and needing the toilet.

Newman, of Croeserw, could be seen driving erratically on Traffic Wales cameras, weaving in and out of traffic and straddling the white line, and was seen speaking on the phone before he crossed three lanes and entered the hard shoulder in what appeared to be an attempt to undertake a lorry.

Accident investigators found he was travelling at 70mph when he veered into the hard shoulder and braked two seconds before impact, hitting the back of the red Ford Fiesta in which the children were sitting at 57mph.

At the scene, Newman was found crying with blood on his hands and saying he “wished he was dead”.

The children were rushed to the intensive care unit of University Hospital of Wales, also known as the Heath Hospital, in Cardiff.

M4 motorway crash
Jayden-Lee Lucas and Gracie-Ann Wheaton were killed in the crash (family handout/PA)

Gracie-Ann died the next day after suffering a cardiac arrest and her younger brother Jayden-Lee died less than a week later. Their mother was in hospital for 10 days.

Both children were said to have suffered catastrophic brain injuries.

Ms Lucas’s injuries included a fractured sternum, bleeding in the abdomen, broken ribs, and severe lacerations to her liver.

Newman told police he had been working as a painter and decorator in Leicester that week and the previous night he had been drinking and taking cocaine until 5am and had only had two hours sleep.

The next morning he decided he was too hungover and tired to work and instead chose to drive the three-hour journey back to Bridgend.

He claims not to be able to remember how he got on to the hard shoulder but said he believes he must have fallen asleep.

An open bottle of red wine was found in the central cup holder, but Newman claimed he had only taken one sip of it during the journey because his “mouth was dry”.

M4 motorway crash
Gracie-Ann Wheaton suffered catastrophic brain injuries in the crash (family handout/PA)

Tests found he was over twice the legal blood alcohol level and still had traces of cocaine in his system.

Other drivers on the motorway that day saw Newman driving haphazardly at speed.

Cara Williams and her partner said they purposefully overtook Newman, who they described as driving like an “idiot”, and when they passed him they saw he was holding his phone to his right ear. She said they mouthed at him to “get off the phone”, but he seemed “oblivious”.

Newman’s phone was examined and it was found he had not been using his phone at the point of impact, but he had repeatedly been on the phone since setting off for Wales at 11am.

The last phone call ended seven minutes before the crash, during which he had been having an argument with his ex-partner.

In a statement read to the court, Ms Lucas, who has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), said: “I feel lost without my children and no-one understands what I’m going through. I know I am still in shock and I haven’t processed exactly what’s happened, I’m not sure I will for a long time.

M4 motorway crash
Jayden-Lee Lucas, three, died less than a week after the crash (family handout/PA)

“The man responsible for this has taken everything I had. If that man was not on the road that day my children would still be here. My children were not able to live their full lives but he continues to live his. It seems so unfair.

“They were such happy children. They had their whole lives ahead of them.”

Adam Saunders, the children’s stepfather who was driving the car, said in his statement he continues to battle with blaming himself for pulling over to allow Gracie-Ann to go to the toilet that day.

He added: “They have left us without a purpose in life. We’re trying to function but we know it can never be the same.”

Sentencing Newman to nine years and four months in prison, Judge Williams described his driving as “horrifying”.

He added: “Just prior to the collision you crossed three lanes suddenly without warning before driving into the hard shoulder and colliding with the car parked on the hard shoulder. In that car were Adam Saunders, Rhiannon Lucas and her two children Gracie-Ann, four, and three-year-old Jayden-Lee.

“The two children were in the back of the car when you drove into it.

“This was the most serious level of dangerous driving. It involved a flagrant disregard for the rules of the road and an utter disregard for the danger you caused to others while driving.

“No sentence can compare to the unending suffering of those who most feel the loss of Gracie-Ann and Jayden-Lee.”

Newman will be expected to serve half his prison sentence in custody. He was also disqualified from driving for 14 years and eight months.

As Newman was taken down from the dock, members of the public shouted “bastard” and “bullshit”.