Shooting party guest jailed for killing father-to-be in crash

Jake Melhuish

Jake Melhuish - Credit: DC Police

A shooting party guest has been jailed after he killed a friend in a car crash when he was drunk on port and high on cocaine. 

Jake Melhuish was driving from the shoot on the edge of Exmoor with 23-year-old father-to-be Trevor Coates as his passenger when his car veered off a country road and hit a tree. 

Mr Coates was killed instantly and his girlfriend Chloe Gilbert has been left heartbroken by his death. Their daughter Ivy was born a month later and she has been left to raise the child as a single mother. 

Both Melhuish and Mr Coates had spent the day at a pre-Christmas shooting party near East Anstey, Devon, at which ten friends had drunk port for breakfast and more port and beer with meals of pasty and cottage pie. 

Some of the men, including Melhuish, had taken cocaine and at the time of the crash at 5.21 pm, he was just under twice the drink drive limit for alcohol. 

The cocaine in his body had broken down by time he was tested five hours later, but he had nine times the safe level of the metabolite BZE. 

The organisers of the shoot had arranged designated drivers and the party was moving from one farmhouse to another when Melhuish decided it was too cramped as a back seat passenger and decided to get out and drive his own car. 

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Witnesses described him as showing off as he left the farmyard with wheels spinning on the gravel and his Volkswagen Bora was out of sight of the following cars when he crashed a few miles away. 

He lost control on a slight bend and crashed into two trees, one of which caused fatal head injuries to Mr Coates. His decision to drive was described as ‘criminal stupidity’ by a judge at Exeter Crown Court. 

Victim Mr Coates was a popular player at Wiveliscombe Rugby Club who worked as an agricultural engineer and plumber. He and Chloe had just moved into a cottage at Winsford on Exmoor to prepare for the birth of their daughter. 

She was praised for her dignity after she stood up to read out a victim personal statement which revealed she has needed counselling and treatment to help her cope with the loss. She has had to move out of the house because she could not afford the rent without his income.  

She said: “Trevor was so excited about becoming a dad. We would often lie in bed and imagine our future with a little family of our own. He was the only person who truly understood me and supported me after the death of my father. 

“On the night of December 5, I waited for Trevor to return but he never did. Receiving the news made me physically sick and I went to hospital as I feared all the stress would affect the health of my unborn child. 

“The thought of the future without him seems impossible. I held his hand for the last time in the Chapel of Rest and told him how much I loved him and how much he would have loved out little girl. 

“Four weeks after his death, I gave birth to our little girl without him and I feel robbed of all the moment we had been going to share together. I dread when I have to explain to her why her daddy isn’t there. 

“I will never let his memory die. He will live with me forever.” 

Melhuish, aged 22, of Sheldon, near Honiton, admitted causing Mr Coates’s death by careless driving while over the limit for alcohol and benzoylecgonine. 

He was jailed for two years and two months and banned from driving for three years after his release by Judge David Evans. 

He told him: “No sentence I pass can ever repair the loss and hurt that your offences have caused. Others questioned the wisdom when you got into your own car, perhaps it is a shame they did not object more. 

“It was perfectly plain that in the light of what you had drunk and consumed that you should not be driving but the decision to drive was yours and yours alone. You had more than just a little alcohol on board, you had cocaine on board too. 

“It was no accident that you found yourself behind the wheel. It was a deliberate decision you made and one of criminal stupidity. There was absolutely no need to drive.” 

Mr Adrian Chaplin, prosecuting, said the crash happened on a slight bend on the B3227 near Blackerton Cross, East Anstey. Neither driver or passenger were wearing seat belts but the damage to Mr Coates’s side of the car was so great that it would have made no difference. 

Melhuish had a positive breath test at the scene which was confirmed by a back calculation on a sample given after he was released from hospital after being treated for a minor back injury. 

The minimum alcohol in his breath at the time of the crash was 66 microgrammes, will above the limit of 35. The level of BZE, the metabolite of cocaine was 449 microgrammes, just under nine times the limit of 50. 

Police inquiries showed the shooting party had begun early in the day and port, beer and more port had been drunk during it and some of those involved had gone to buy more alcohol and drugs. 

They were on their way to carry on the party at another farm when the crash happened on a dark country lane. Experts calculated that Melhuish was not speeding. 

Mr Tom Bradnock, defending, said Melhuish has been racked by guilt and remorse and the consequences will live with him for the rest of his life. 

He made the decision to drive when his judgment was impaired and at a time when he was acting immaturely.

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