Former Burns Point ferry driver Donald MacLeman outside the Ballina Courthouse yesterday.
Former Burns Point ferry driver Donald MacLeman outside the Ballina Courthouse yesterday. Jay Cronan

Merry ferryman drinking on the job

A MAN who drank a bottle of wine while operating the Burns Point Ferry at Ballina said he drank because he was worried about his sick wife.

Donald MacLeman, 70, was also concerned about a group of youths who were ‘playing up’ on the ferry because it was Halloween night.

His lawyer, Vince Boss, yesterday told Ballina Local Court that the West Ballina man was a ‘pillar of the community’.

But MacLeman was convicted of high-level drink driving by Magistrate Kim Pogson, who described his actions as ‘extremely dangerous’. He was fined $1000 and disqualified from driving for 12 months.

Mr Boss said his client would not normally put himself or others in danger.

“At 4.30pm that day (October 31) he received a call from his daughter saying his wife had been taken to hospital with chest pains,” Mr Boss said.

He also said a group of youths had been ‘playing up’ on the ferry, putting on the lifejackets and generally causing trouble.

“Things got the better of him,” Mr Boss said.

Police were called to the ferry about 8.30pm after a member of the public expressed concern about MacLeman’s behaviour.

He failed a breath test and was arrested. A bottle of wine was found in the cabin of the ferry.

Mr Boss said MacLeman had held his driver’s licence for 53 years, with only five minor offences recorded against him.

“He essentially retired in 2005 ... he has now lost his job,” he said.

“He knows that is a consequence of his actions. He was drinking alcohol when he shouldn’t have been.”

Mr Pogson said MacLeman the blood-alcohol level reading of 0.175 was ‘substantial’.

He also said MacLeman had to be treated differently to a normal drink-driving case because he had been operating a public vehicle at the time.

“It was an extremely dangerous act,” Mr Pogson said.

The magistrate also said a bottle of wine was found in the cabin of the ferry, indicating that MacLeman had been drinking while operating the ferry, not before he started his shift.

“If I was on that ferry and I knew that the driver had a reading of 0.175, then I would be putting a life jacket on, too,” Mr Pogson said, referring to the behaviour of the youths on the ferry that night.

“It would send the wrong message indeed ... for you to be not disqualified.”



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