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Shooting party guest, 22, is jailed for killing father-to-be, 23


Jake Melhuish (pictured) drove from the shoot on the edge of Exmoor

A 22-year-old gunman has been jailed after killing a friend in a car accident when he hit a tree while drunk on port and high on cocaine.

Jake Melhuish was driving from the shooting on the outskirts of Exmoor with 23-year-old father-to-be Trevor Coates in the passenger seat when his car went off a country road and hit a tree.

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

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

Some of the men, including Melhuish, were also taking cocaine and at the time of the accident at 5:21 p.m. the driver was just under double the alcohol limit for drink-driving.

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

The organizers of the shoot arranged for drivers and the party moved from one farm to another when Melhuish decided it was too tight as a passenger in the back seat and decided to get out and drive his own car.

Witnesses described how he showed off as he left the yard with wheels spinning on the gravel and said his Volkswagen Bora was out of sight when it crashed a few miles away.

He lost control in a tight corner and crashed into two trees, one of which caused a fatal head injury to Mr Coates. His decision to drive was described as ‘criminal stupidity’ by an Exeter Crown Court judge.

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 in Winsford on Exmoor to prepare for the birth of their daughter.

She was praised for her dignity after she stood up to read a victim statement showing she needed guidance and treatment to cope with the loss.

She had to leave the house because she couldn’t pay the rent without his income.

She said, “Trevor was so excited to be a father. We often lay in bed imagining our future with a family of our own. He was the only person who really understood and supported me after my father died.

Trevor Coates (pictured) died sitting in the passenger seat when the car went off a country road and hit a tree

Trevor Coates (pictured) died sitting in the passenger seat when the car went off a country road and hit a tree

“On the night of December 5, I waited for Trevor to return, but he never came. When I received the news, I became physically ill and went to the hospital because I was afraid that all the stress would affect the health of my unborn child.

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

“Four weeks after his death I gave birth to our little girl without him and I feel robbed of all the moments we wish we could have shared together. I’m afraid if I have to explain to her why her father isn’t there. I will never let his memory die. He will live with me forever.’

Melhuish, 22, from Sheldon, near Honiton, admitted to causing Mr Coates’ death by careless driving while exceeding the alcohol and benzoylecgonine limit.

He was sentenced to two years and two months in prison and a three-year driving ban after his release by Judge David Evans.

Judge Evans said, “No punishment I pronounce can ever restore the loss and pain your transgressions have caused. Others doubted the wisdom when you got into your own car, maybe it’s a shame they didn’t object more.

“It was perfectly clear that in light of what you had been drinking and consuming you were not allowed to drive, but the decision to drive was yours and yours alone. You had more than just a little alcohol on board, you also had cocaine on board.

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

Adrian Chaplin, the prosecutor, said the crash occurred on a small bend on the B3227 near Blackerton Cross, East Anstey.

Neither the driver nor the passenger were wearing seat belts, but the damage to the side of Mr Coates’ car was so extensive it wouldn’t have made a difference.

Melhuish's decision to drive was described as 'criminal stupidity' by an Exeter Crown Court judge.  He was jailed for two years

Melhuish’s decision to drive was described as ‘criminal stupidity’ by an Exeter Crown Court judge. He was jailed for two years

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 level in his breath at the time of the crash was 66 micrograms, almost double the limit of 35. The level of BZE, the metabolite of cocaine, was 44 micrograms, just under nine times the limit of 50.

Police investigations revealed the shooting was on its way to another farm when the accident happened on a dark country road. Experts calculated that Melhuish was not speeding.

Mr Tom Bradnock, on the defensive, said Melhuish is tormented by guilt and remorse and the consequences will stay 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 immature.

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