Driver jailed after ploughing into three school girls walking home from school
A driver who ploughed into a group of schoolgirls leaving one with life-changing injuries has been jailed for three years.
Jeffery Rowntree was driving his Ford Focus along Skelton Street in Hartlepool when it mounted the pavement and hit the girls as they walked home from school.
The most seriously injured of the girls was thrown onto the windscreen of the car before being knocked over a garden wall, Teesside Crown Court heard.
"She suffered life-changing injuries and has no recollection of the incident," said Rachel Masters, prosecuting.
"Other witnesses describe the car driving at considerable speed, swerving from side to side, its tyres screeching.
"It mounted the pavement and ploughed into the girls, injuring all three of them."
Ms Masters played video footage of the incident to Judge Simon Bourne-Arton privately because it was too distressing to be shown in court.
"The most seriously injured girl was knocked unconscious," said Ms Masters,
"She was airlifted to James Cook Hospital where she spent 24 hours in an induced medical coma.
"There was bleeds on the brain and on the right side of her heart, and a right leg injury which may require operations in future due to future growth.
"Another girl suffered a fractured leg, and the third suffered an elbow injury and cuts and bruises."
There has been long-term physical and psychological effects on all of the girls, the court heard.
The mother of the most seriously injured girl said her daughter's personality had changed, she'd become moody, and had trouble concentrating,
She also suffered frequent dizzy spells and other after effects of the brain injury.
The two other mothers said their daughters had also become moody, introverted, and argumentative, and had feelings of guilt over the serious injuries suffered by their friend.
Rowntree was arrested at the scene.
"He was breathalysed and drug tested," said Ms Masters. "Traces of cannabis were found which were below the legal limit.
"Three defects were found on the car, a bald tyre, an insecure battery, and an incorrectly fitted steering lock which could have caused injury to the driver.
"The investigating officer could find no mechanical or environmental reasons as to why this happened."
Rowntree, 47, of Stockton Road, Hartlepool, admitted causing serious injury by dangerous driving, and he admitted using a vehicle in a condition likely to cause injury, both on May 15, last year.
The court heard he has 95 previous convictions, including two offences of driving with excess alcohol.
Phillipa Hildyard, defending, said in mitigation: "It should go without saying, but there was no intent to cause any harm.
"It was a short incident of dangerous driving, not a prolonged period.
"There is no evidence Mr Rowntree was unfit through drink or drugs, and no evidence he was speeding at the time of the collision.
"Mr Rowntree still cannot explain why this happened, but he wishes to apologise for all the hurt and distress he caused.
"He was on his way to collect his son from school, for whom he is the full-time carer."
Judge Bourne-Arton jailed Rowntree for three years.
The judge told him: "You devastated the lives of three families.
"The physical and psychological damage you caused to the children will be with them for a long time.
"It is important the families understand I am constrained by the maximum penalty in this case which is five years.
"I cannot, and will not, pass consecutive sentences, but I will not lose sight of the fact that three children were injured."
Rowntree was banned from driving for five years and six months.