Thursday 22 February 2018

Pair jailed over death of man's ex-girlfriend following city centre car chase

Sophie Taylor
Sophie Taylor

Claire Hayhurst, Press Association

A PAIR who "literally drove" a young woman to her death and caused her passenger horrific injuries in a city car chase have been jailed.

Michael Wheeler, 23, and Melissa Pesticcio, 24, pursued his ex-girlfriend Sophie Taylor, 22, in separate vehicles as she drove through Cardiff in Wales

Cardiff Crown Court heard Wheeler had been in a relationship with Pesticcio when he started dating Miss Taylor in June last year.

The relationship between Wheeler and Miss Taylor ended weeks later, with Pesticcio and Wheeler becoming "increasingly hostile" towards her.

CCTV images captured the pair, in separate cars, chasing Miss Taylor through Cardiff at speeds of up to 56mph from 12.32am on August 22.

Three minutes later, at 12.35am, Wheeler "rammed" the side of Miss Taylor's car - causing it to spin out of control and crash into a block of flats.

Miss Taylor died in hospital while her passenger - friend Joshua Deguara - suffered life-changing injuries.

Wheeler admitted causing death and serious injury by dangerous driving. A jury later convicted Pesticcio of the same charges.

Judge Tom Crowther QC jailed Wheeler for seven years and six months, and Pesticcio for six years and six months for the "completely avoidable" tragedy.

"It was caused by you two, when you were consumed by a self-righteous and jealous rage, chasing her down to frighten her and teach her a lesson," the judge said.

Pesticcio and Wheeler were in a relationship during 2015 and 2016, until he began dating Miss Taylor.

Wheeler was "dominant and controlling" and took financial advantage of Pesticcio, the court heard.

On August 12, Wheeler insisted that Miss Taylor took out a loan for £6,000 to buy him a motorbike, the court heard.

"I suspect that you saw Sophie Taylor simply as a convenient line of credit," the judge told Wheeler.

"Miss Taylor was not going to stand for that sort of treatment."

After receiving the motorbike, Wheeler ignored Miss Taylor and told friends and family he had paid her for it, the court heard.

Pesticcio then started "haranguing" Miss Taylor by text message and shouted abuse at her in the street, the court was told.

On the night of August 21, Miss Taylor, accompanied by Mr Deguara, went to the home of Wheeler's parents for the motorbike.

"I have no doubt that you, Mr Wheeler, were humiliated by this scene and perhaps concerned that the truth would out," the judge added.

Pesticcio used her car to chase Miss Taylor out off her "turf" - the area around Wheeler's home in Rumney, Cardiff, the court heard.

"I have no doubt that you intended to return home - you were still in your pyjamas," the judge told Pesticcio.

"But at 12.03am you called Mr Wheeler. The two of you went to look for Sophie Taylor to teach her a lesson.

"You two were circling in a convoy, at speed, looking for Miss Taylor.

"She by chance drove past you, heading left to her side of town. Miss Pesticcio you chose to turn and follow, Mr Wheeler in turn following behind.

"There was then a pursuit at speed, on public roads, with hostile intent."

Mr Deguara called 999 and told police their car was being chased, with the call continuing until the fatal crash.

The judge added: "The part of the CCTV of three cars on Broadway resembles nothing more than a pack chasing its prey."

Pesticcio and Wheeler then chased Miss Taylor's car into narrow residential streets, with Wheeler driving at 56mph.

"Both of you were still accelerating," the judge said. "Sophie and Joshua would have been terrified at this stage."

Wheeler then attempted to "ram" Miss Taylor off the road, causing her BMW to fold along the passenger side before crashing.

Miss Taylor sustained catastrophic brain injuries and died. Mr Deguara was cut free from the wreckage and spent 101 days in hospital.

Both Pesticcio and Wheeler drove away after the crash but parked a short distance away, where they were arrested by police.

"Each of you was determined to stop Sophie Taylor's car and your motive was hostility," the judge added.

The pursuit lasted for under 2km through Cardiff and for approximately three minutes before the crash.

Prosecuting, Matthew Cobbe told the court that on September 13, while on bail, Wheeler had been driving a friend's car.

Wheeler spotted a prosecution witness and a friend in a car, and turned to head after him - driving right behind them.

"He effectively tailgated them for 300 metres so close that they believed he was within inches of the car," Mr Cobbe said.

Wheeler was taken into custody following the incident, for which he received an additional 12-month prison sentence.

Mr Deguara, 21, using crutches to walk, gave a victim impact statement to the court.

"I can't remember anything from 10 minutes before the crash until five weeks after due to my brain injury," he said.

"My parents had to break the news to me that my friend Sophie had passed away."

In what has been "the hardest decision", Mr Deguara will have his leg amputated below the left knee as his injuries have left it with no feeling.

"Sometimes I feel so angry with what has happened," he said. "I know I'm lucky to be alive but my life will never be the same."

Rodney Taylor, Miss Taylor's father, said: "I am, in some ways, the luckiest father in the world.

"I cherish every moment and hope that wherever she is, she finds the peace and happiness that she deserves. I hope that maybe one day we will meet again."

Her mother, Jackie Taylor, added: "I feel so heartbroken at the thought of just how frightened and alone my daughter must have felt that night, being chased through the streets like an animal."

Family members of both Miss Taylor and Mr Deguara, wearing pink ribbons, clapped after each victim impact statement was read.

They clapped and cheered as the judge announced the prison sentences for Wheeler and Pesticcio.

Both were disqualified from driving - Wheeler for four years after his release and Pesticcio for three years after hers.

Speaking previously, Acting Detective Chief Inspector Rob Cronick, of South Wales Police, said Wheeler and Pesticcio "acted together" to pursue Miss Taylor.

"They literally drove Sophie to her death and left Joshua with horrific injuries from which he may never recover," he added.

"Michael Wheeler's treatment of Sophie prior to her death involved coercion and control and was indicative of systematic domestic abuse.

"Melissa Pesticcio was driven by jealousy and rage as an ex-girlfriend of Wheeler. Their behaviour leading up to the tragic incident was nothing short of despicable."

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