Call for zero tolerance

THE SEATON mother whose teenage son was badly burned following a collision with a drink-driver has called for zero tolerance. Mitchell Hopkins, 16, was thrown through the air on fire, after his motorcycle fuel tank exploded in a collision with a driver who was over the limit

THE SEATON mother whose teenage son was badly burned following a collision with a drink-driver has called for zero tolerance.

Mitchell Hopkins, 16, was thrown through the air on fire, after his motorcycle fuel tank exploded in a collision with a driver who was over the limit.

James McMullan, 50, of Willow Close, Seaton, pleaded guilty before Central Devon Magistrates, sitting at Exeter, to drink-driving and driving without due care and attention.

McMullan was banned from driving for 15 months and fined �100. He was also ordered to carry out 100 hours unpaid work in the community.


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Toni-Jane Hopkins, 44, from Meadway, said: "My son is serving a life sentence. I don't think justice was really served. You can get 12 months for driving without a license or insurance.

"I would like to see zero tolerance enforced. If you get behind the wheel you shouldn't drink at all - then there are no grey areas."

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Axe Valley Community College student Mitchell suffered severe burns when McMullan cut a corner making a right turn and drove into the path of his 50cc machine.

Mitchell also broke his left leg and right thumb following the collision on Harepath Road, on November 17.

McMullan's defence, Caroline Salvatore, told the court he was sorry and vowed not to touch alcohol again.

Mrs Hopkins said: "Sorry doesn't change anything. But, if McMullan is truly sorry and has taken on board what he has done, then he has got to live with that for the rest of his life.

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"Maybe that's his sentence. I don't think I'd be able to live with myself."

Mitchell has serious burns to his stomach, back, hands, a foot and a leg, as well as superficial burns to his forehead. He spent five weeks at the burns unit in Bristol and had extensive skin grafts. He may need further operations in future.

Mrs Hopkins believes that if McMullan is true to his word, then a lesson has been learned, albeit an expensive one.

She said: "That split second changed everything. Mitchell is permanently scarred and the pressure garments he has to wear cause him discomfort. He was a good rugby player, but can't play any more."

Mitchell, who had got the bike for his 16th birthday, had been going to the shop to get some milk for his mum on that fateful night.

He wore most of his protective clothing, but failed to put on his gloves - as it was just a short distance away. Now he is urging motorcyclists to always wrap up - no matter how short the journey.

Mitchell said: "I remember seeing headlights coming towards me and thought 'I can't avoid the car' and I hit the side of it - and everything went white.

"I woke up on the floor and looked behind me to see the road and car on fire. I drifted in and out of consciousness and someone dragged me out of the fire. Then I was carted off to hospital."

Mrs Hopkins describes how she heard the sirens and when she heard a knock on the door two hours later, she knew her son had been in an accident.

"It was my worst nightmare," she said. "I felt sick, it was devastating. When I heard he was still alive and talking, a bit of weight lifted. In hospital it was touch and go at times. He's lucky to be alive."

The family thanked Axe Valley Community College for doing a collection for Mitchell while he was in hospital.

Father Andrew Hopkins, 51, from Harcombe Road, in Uplyme, was less forgiving of McMullan.

He said: "I think he's got off lightly for what he did. Drink-driving can ruin lives There are a lot of things that Mitchell wanted to do, and can't anymore."

But he thanked the emergency services who were at the scene within minutes and for the treatment Mitchell received at Bristol.

While Mitchell misses doing some things with friends, he takes a more philosophical view: "What's done is done," he said. "I just have to look forward to the future. There's no point to keep going back to the accident and holding grudges."

McMullan told the court he had tried to help the boy and then went back to his home nearby and drank a bottle of cider before returning to the scene. A drink-drive sample was not taken until three hours after the collision as McMullan went to hospital with burns on his hand.

But he admitted having 105 milligrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood when the legal limit is 80 milligrammes.

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