Parents' relief at driver's guilty plea
HE pleaded guilty.
The families of Bryce Wells, Corey New, Mitchell Eveleigh and Paul Morris, killed in a car crash at Broken Head in October, 2006, said they were relieved at news the young driver had pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of dangerous driving occasioning death.
However, they also appeared shaken after meeting with the Crown prosecutor at Lismore District Court and being told of the plea, some wiping away tears and another openly sobbing. Some family members later said their relief was tempered by the return of their grief now the end of the case appeared in sight.
District Court Judge Colin Charteris dismissed the jury and began the sentencing hearing for the young man, who cannot be named for legal reasons.
During the hearing, Byron Shire Council's infrastructure and planning manager, Michael King, admitted to the court that new speed signs erected by council a month before the crash, which cut the speed limit on that section of Broken Head Road from 100km/h to 80km/h, were the wrong size and put in the wrong place.
Under questioning from defence barrister Chris Bruce, Mr King agreed the 100km/h marking on the bitumen next to 80km/h sign, clearly shown in a police car video from the night of the accident, could have caused confusion about the speed limit.
Mr King told the court the '1' in the 100km/h road marking was painted over with black paint leaving the two zeros untouched.
However, he said the road markings should have been sandblasted away at the time the signs were changed.
Judge Charteris said there were many cases of young men in the courts who were heavy on the accelerator.
Defence solicitor Ralph James later said the case had been the hardest in his 27-year law career and a 'living hell' for the young driver.
“The effect on the young driver, his family and those representing him has been huge,” he said.
“He has been living with this tragedy for two years and his plea of guilty has taken a significant weight of his shoulders.
“He is terribly sorry for the events of that day and he has been significantly affected.
“In this case there has been five victims and five victims' families, and that is what has made this case so difficult.
“The boys who have lost their lives have been described as promising young men, and so is the young driver. His future has been in doubt for two years and it is good to know the end is nigh.
“His approach to the matter has been commendable and he has fully appreciated the state of the evidence and his level of responsibility. On entering these pleas he has acted with courage and with compassion to the families of the boys.”
Outside the court, family members voiced their relief, with Rob Wells, father of Bryce, saying that hearing the word 'guilty' from the driver gave him a sense of closure.
“No kid should be put in the situation that this kid is in,” he said. “No 17-year-old should have responsibility for other people's lives because the NSW Government has it wrong.”
Judge Charteris said he had to strain to remember seeing a young woman before the court for similar charges.
“It seems to happen with young men,” he said. “We don't let 17-year-olds vote, but we allow them behind the wheel. I would be happier if they could vote at 17 years of age and not drive until they are 19.”
Judge Charteris said he would allow medical evidence on decision-making processes in young men during the sentencing hearing.