THE heartbroken partner of a dad-to-be who was killed by a dangerous driver on the M6 says the sentence handed to the cowardly motorist is “an insult”.

Chris Smith was on the M6 Thelwall Viaduct when John Yates smashed into him after hitting speeds of around 128mph.

Yates, who was under the influence of drugs, fled the scene by jumping over a barrier immediately after the incident.

The 28-year-old appeared before Chester Crown Court on Friday, January 20, after pleading guilty to causing death by dangerous driving and failing to provide a specimen for analysis.

Warrington Guardian:

The horrific incident happened on the M6 between junction 20, Lymm, and junction 21, Woolston, on November 15 last year at about 12.30am.

This part of the motorway had been reduced from four lanes to just one due to roadworks and a speed restriction of 50mph was in place as a result.

Yates tried to fit into a gap between Mr Smith’s car and another driver’s car but due to travelling at more than 100mph he was unable to do so and clipped one of the cars before smashing into the back of Mr Smith’s Peugeot.

This caused both his and Mr Smith’s vehicles to spin out "multiple times" and end up on the hard shoulder.

Warrington Guardian:

He was jailed for eight-years and three-months which he must serve two-thirds of.

Chris’ partner Mandy McKechnie, 39`, from Sutton, St Helens, who is due to have their baby boy, spoke to the Warrington Guardian's sister paper, the St Helens Star.

She said: “We were told by police to expect him to get life imprisonment or a substantial sentence.

“I was advised due to my blood pressure and heart issues I’ve had during my pregnancy due to the stress caused from losing Chris how we did that I shouldn’t attend court, but when they told me I was floored by it.

Warrington Guardian:

“The family of Violet-Grace [Youens] fought to get the law changed so it’s now a maximum of life for causing death by dangerous driving, which should have applied in Chris’ case because it happened after the law came in, but the judge chose to give such a short sentence and I can’t understand why.

“Not only was that man under the influence of drugs and ran away, but he also had prior convictions for driving offences on top of causing Chris’s death by driving at 128mph.

“He may have killed Chris, but he gave me a life sentence by driving that way that day.

Warrington Guardian:

“Our unborn son has already got irreparable damage because he will grow up without the daddy he stole from him, not because of an accident, but because he was on drugs and driving at top speeds.

“It’s an insult and a disgrace that Chris has not been given justice, this is injustice.

“All Chris and I did was choose our son’s name, he missed out on scans, buying prams, decorating the nursery, all because of that man that day.

“The judge had every opportunity to use these new laws but chose not to, so for now I need to focus on my son, but I will be looking into this further.

Warrington Guardian:

“With Chris’s family, I hope to get more information on how we help get Chris the justice he deserves, because eight years is not enough.”

The law change Mandy is referring to is often dubbed ‘Violet’s Law’ and refers to Violet-Grace Youens from Eccleston in St Helens who was struck by a speeding car in March 2017.

Her parents, disgusted at the short sentence the killer driver received, led a successful online petition which led to 167,000 signatures and a parliamentary debate to up the maximum sentence for those found guilty of causing death by dangerous driving from 15 years to life imprisonment.

Warrington Guardian: Rebecca and Glen Youens (both centre), the parents of Violet-Grace Youens who was killed in a hit-and-run crash, speak to the media outside Liverpool Crown Court after driver Aidan McAteer was jailed for nine years and four months Peter Byrne/PA Wire

This law change was passed in June 2022, giving hopes to loved ones of victims who were killed by dangerous drivers in incidents after that June date, from when the law change would apply.

However, the sentence given to Yates has been called into question.

Sentencing guidelines for the stronger powers are still being drawn up but in the meantime judges can take into account the fact the law has changed to allow maximum sentences of life in the worst cases.

Warrington Guardian: Violet-Grace Youens

The Star approached the Sentencing Council questioning Yate’s sentence, and a spokesperson sent the following statement: “Following changes in the law, the Sentencing Council is revising its sentencing guidelines for motoring offences, including causing death by dangerous driving.

“The new guidelines are expected to come into force later this year.

“In the meantime, the existing guideline for causing death by dangerous driving draws the courts’ attention to the change in the maximum penalty.

“The courts must follow the guidelines, unless it is not in the interests of justice to do so and can take account of the availability of the higher maximum penalty when sentencing offenders.”

The Star also contacted the Ministry of Justice, which said: “Our thoughts remain with the family of Chris Smith.

“Dangerous drivers ruin lives and though individual judges decide sentences, our new laws have increased the maximum penalty to life imprisonment for causing death by dangerous driving.”