THE events of December 21 last year ensured Christmas will never be the same again for the family of James Reddington.
With his partner due to give birth to their daughter in May, the little girl will grow up without her father.
The day before the accident that claimed his life, 19-year-old Mr Reddington had told his mother that he was to become a dad for the second time.
His mother, girlfriend and sisters were at Teesside Crown Court on Friday (April 25), to see Darrel French and Daniel Dewhirst Bolton sentenced for their roles in the tragedy.
For the most part, they listened silently to the proceedings, save for the occasional display of emotion.
At the conclusion of the case, they kept their own counsel, choosing not to pass comment on the jail term of six years and four months Judge Simon Bourne-Arton QC handed down to French.
Mr Reddington’s mother wrote a victim impact statement, which was not read out in court, in which she described the family’s loss.
Prosecutor Peter Makepeace said: “One can only imagine the difficulties this has created for Mr Reddington’s family, over the Christmas period last year, and will forever create over Christmas.”
Mr Reddington got into the Isuzu Trooper with French and Daniel Dewhirst Bolton knowing it was stolen.
One witness described it hurtling across a cobbled section of road close to Darlington Town Hall, designed as a traffic-calming measure, at such a speed that all four wheels were off the ground.
It continued along Feethams and onto the ring road at speeds estimated by witnesses at between 50 and 60mph.
Mr Makepeace said: “The vehicle was clearly travelling at excessive speed. In front of the Isuzu and intending to travel left was a single-decker bus.
“The driver of the first bus signalled to a second bus travelling from Stonebridge.
“Rather than slowing down, [French] appears to have put his foot down and tried to get between the front of the second bus and the central reservation.
“He misjudged the space available to him and drove straight into the front off side of the bus.”
Mr Makepeace said there was no evidence French had applied the brakes at any point.
French was found to have 91 microgrammes of alcohol in 100ml of breath. The legal limit is 35 microgrammes per 100ml of breath.
Dan Cordey, mitigating for French, said the former industrial cleaner and car valet took full responsibility for his actions.
Mr Cordey said: “He told me in conference ‘I am sorry for his family, for his Mam and I want them to know how sorry I am’.
“He expresses, through me, his genuine remorse and condolences to the family.”
French, 25, who has three children, has a previous conviction for failing to stop and report an accident.
Mr Cordey added: “He has been seen by the mental health team [while in custody awaiting sentence].
“The reason for that is that he has been having flashbacks to the offences, repetitive dreams and a provisional diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder has been recorded.”
Dewhirst Bolton, 23, suffered extensive injuries in the crash, including a broken femur, fractured jaw and a head injury.
His barrister, Scott Smith, said Dewhirst Bolton described Mr Reddington as his best friend.
Mr Smith said: “It will be some time until his injuries have healed, as far as they will heal, and he will be psychologically scarred for life.
“He has had a difficult upbringing and has been on his own since he was 15.
“I am to offer his heartfelt apologies for what transpired.
“He feels that the only thing he can do going forward is to take advantage of the fact that it was not him that passed away on that day - it could quite easily have been so - and to turn his life around.”