An Irish national has been sentenced to a term of imprisonment after a crash that left his friend seriously injured.
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An Irish national has been sentenced to a term of imprisonment after a crash that left his friend seriously injured. . Adam Hourigan

How a night out with mates led to devastating situation

AFTER a few drinks with workmates on the night of November 3, 2018, Mark McGonigle and his good friend decided it was time to call it a night.

It was 1am, and they were due to start new labouring jobs interstate the next day.

McGonigle said he'd drive them back to their Maclean home, even though he'd been drinking and knew he'd be over the limit.

He also knew that police were around - his friend was pulled over for a random breath test just a few hours earlier, on the way to the Yamba pub.

That fateful decision to drive has landed him years behind bars as his mate continues to recover from serious injuries almost eight months on.

Police first became aware of McGonigle's driving when they had to swerve to avoid his car which was travelling on the wrong side of Yamba Rd.

The night quickly spiralled out of control.

McGonigle, on a working holiday from Ireland with his friend, panicked and fled from police at speed, reaching speeds between 128 and 135km/h in a 60km/h zone.

Police estimated the 24-year-old was travelling at more than 130km/h when his car rolled several times and crashed into a macadamia plantation at Palmers Island, about 8.5km from where the pursuit began.

His friend was flung from the vehicle and was found, severely injured, 40m away and was flown to Brisbane's Princess Alexandra Hospital in a critical condition but has since returned to Ireland.

McGonigle, who had earlier pleaded guilty to engaging in a police pursuit and aggravated dangerous driving occasioning grievous bodily harm, faced Lismore District Court for sentencing on Monday.

The Crown prosecutor tendered to the court CCTV showing him driving at speed past various locations, including the police station.

"It was very much that vehicle driving at its capacity," the prosecutor said.

The court heard McGonigle visited his friend in hospital often and had shown "great remorse" over the incident.

Barrister Megan Cusack tendered to the court medical reports and a host of references on her client's behalf, including from the victim and his family, who remained supportive of McGonigle.

When he took to the witness stand, McGonigle was visibly emotional and shaking.

Judge Wells said matters involving grievous bodily harm must be "regarded as a serious crime".

"No doubt his judgment ... and his driving was severely affected by his consumption of alcohol," she said.

"The offender posed a risk to himself and his passenger and other road users.

"Where there's an offence of this kind and because of the prevalence of the offence, the punishment must be severe.

"He demonstrated very little regard for himself, his passenger, the police who were on the road and other road users."

She took into account McGonigle's early guilty pleas, his lack of any prior convictions and subjective circumstances.

But she pointed out the "cost to the community" from such behaviour, including the toll on emergency services, some of whom "suffer quite significantly" from exposure to road trauma.

She sentenced McGonigle to a total term of four years and three months, with a non-parole period ending on September 23, 2021.

McGonigle hugged his friends and wept as he was taken into custody.