The man responsible for driving a car in a high-speed chase that ended the life of a Warrawong father of seven has been jailed for 13 years.
Darren Butler and co-accused Andrew Russell were sentenced in Wollongong District Court on Thursday after a jury found them guilty of manslaughter.
Warrawong father of seven Daniel Merrett, 27, was killed when the Ford Territory driven by his sister Kaylene Merrett crashed into the rear of a fuel tanker on the Princes Highway in the early hours of May 18, 2019.
A jury found Butler and Russell guilty of chasing the Territory while in a Toyota Corolla in such an intimidatory manner that they caused the fatal collision.
Butler was also found guilty of two counts of dangerous driving causing grievous bodily harm which related to Ms Merrett and Mr Merrett's her cousin Jakaya Clulow.
However the jury acquitted Russell on the charge of discharging a firearm in a public place.
During the course of the trial, the jury heard there had been a dispute between Butler and another passenger in the Ford Territory, Thomas Johnson, earlier in the night over unpaid debt.
Both vehicles were then involved in a high-speed chase down the Princes Highway, which came to an abrupt end when the Territory smashed into a fuel tanker turning out of Creole Road.
The court heard on average Butler was travelling about 160 km/h in a 70 km/h zone after they got onto the M1 Princes Motorway, with the whole chase going for 11 kilometres.
In court on Thursday, Butler was sentenced to 13 years imprisonment with a non parole of nine years and three months. He will be eligible for parole 29 August 2030.
His sentence was backdate to two years after he was first arrested due to him serving jail time for crimes he committed whilst in custody.
Russell's sentence of four years with a non parole period of two years and 11 months will begin five months after he entered custody. He will be eligible for parole on September 27 next year.
When handing down the sentences, Judge Andrew Haesler said "no life could ever be equated with a period of imprisonment".
"No jail term can return a loved one and a life should never be measured simply by the punishment metered out to the offender," he said.
Judge Haelser said the court also recognised the lasting physical, emotional and psychological harm caused to Ms Merrett and Ms Clulow.
He noted this case was a "very serious example of vehicular manslaughter".
"Butler's driving of the Corolla at high speed in pursuit of the Ford on the M1 for over 10 kilometres shows he had totally abandoned any responsibility as a road user," Judge Haesler said.
"His driving led directly to the death of Mr Merrett.
"He did so for a base motive - an attempt to exhort money from a passenger in the vehicle. He did so knowing there were four people in the Ford. His actions were solely to intimidate them.
"He could have stopped the pursuit at any time. He did not."
Judge Haesler said Russell must have the full benefit of the acquittal for the firearms charge but still must bear criminal responsibility for Mr Merrett's death.
"His direct actions which were designed to intimidate Mr Johnson and others in the car, proceeded the chase," he said.
"There is no evidence he did anything during the chase to urge Butler, except to encourage him by his presence alone, as their aim to intimidate Mr Johnson was the same.
"His role was thus significantly less than Butler's as was his moral responsibility. Once it began, only the driver had the capacity to stop the pursuit."
Judge Haesler noted both men had a long history of drug use and had only spent a matter of months in the community during their adult lives after getting released from prison for previous crimes.
He said they had never learnt to live a life in the community despite their family's support, but rather had returned to taking their old associates, taking drugs and committing offences.
Judge Haesler accepted Butler had a background of "social disadvantage" yet noted he continued to have a relationship with his family and Mariah Powell, who helped him go on the run after the crash.
Judge Haesler said Russell had promised to take up the help his family had offered him once he was released on parole.
He said Russell would have to deal with his longstanding drug problem first, and would need to engage in a drug rehabilitation program in custody and on release if he was going to change.
"He will have to make significant changes if he is to break the pattern set in childhood and which has continued since 2012," he said.
Judge Haesler said Butler had spent most of his adult life "living outside of the law or in detention".
"His first response is defiance. He does not know how to respect the law, or other people's property or rights to go about their business peacefully," Judge Haesler said.
"He has harmed others, he has taken their property, put others at risk, he has drawn others into his criminal activities. He has harmed himself and those who love him."
Judge Haesler noted Butler's jail discipline record was poor and he had been convicted for several offences including setting fire to a cell.
"As he gets older he may come to realise that defiance is not in his own interest and could mean he serves his entire sentence in custody," he said.
"Butler must be released into the community and it is essential every effort be made to encourage him learn the skills necessary, as he grows older and matures, I trust he will appreciate he must take advantage of that assistance."
The Illawarra Mercury newsroom is funded by our readers. You can subscribe to support our journalism here.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.