A drunk and speeding learner driver who killed a teenage girl after a year 12 party was jailed today for four-and-a-half years.
The teenage driver, who cannot be named, had a blood-alcohol level of .15, more than three times the legal limit for a fully licensed driver, when he crashed a car into a tree in Brighton East.
The County Court room, which was filled with relatives and friends of both the victim and the offender, heard the collision occurred after an Australia Day barbecue this year when he, the 18-year-old victim, and about 30 others had completed studies at different private schools.
Judge Carolyn Douglas said it was estimated the driver, then 17, had been drinking for about 10 hours at a friend's place and that everyone present was "fairly drunk".
She showed the court photographs of a table at the unsupervised party covered with bottles of alcohol and of the overturned car after the accident.
The driver was kissing the victim when another boy walked in. The pair then argued, the court heard.
The Director of Public Prosecutions, John Champion SC, said in his summary of the facts that the driver took the keys to the friend's car because the friend was drunk. The driver told him that he did not want him to drive.
Mr Champion said the the driver was annoyed the friend had walked in on them while the friend said later he was upset because he thought the driver was being unfair to the girl "given her condition".
All three then got into a car, which a number of witnesses said later was speeding in the 70km/h zone on South Road in Brighton.
Witnesses said he was zig-zagging around other cars to overtake and avoid them. Ms Douglas said he had made "risk-taking manoeuvres likely involving bravado."
A police reconstruction of the crash revealed the driver was steering the wheel severely to the right when the car began to rotate clockwise as it crossed onto the median strip and crashed into a tree.
Police estimated the car was travelling at at least 132km/h when the driver lost control of it.
Mr Champion said the force of the impact caused the tree to break off at its base and the car then rolled onto the passenger side before it hit a second tree.
"At the time of the collision the weather was fine, the road was dry, and visibility was excellent given street and traffic lighting," he said.
Almost an hour later, a police test revealed the driver had a blood-alcohol concentration 0.153 per cent. He had told them he was "f------ pissed".
He said he was unsure how fast he was going at the time.
A month after the accident, the driver told police he knew what he did that night was wrong and said he should not have done it.
He told them: "I wish I could go back and change what I did, but I can't. I know that (the victim's) family are never gonna forgive me for what I've done and they shouldn't. I'd want them to know that I'm never gonna forgive myself either. I — I can't."
Now 18, the driver faced a maximum sentence of 20 years' jail for the charge of culpable driving, to which he had pleaded guilty.
Judge Carolyn Douglas sentenced him to four and a half years in jail, with a minimum of two years before he will be eligible for parole. Ms Douglas said she would recommend the Adult Parole Board transfer him to a youth justice centre to serve out his minimum term, on the advice of the Department of Human Services, which had told her he would be extremely vulnerable within the adult prison system.
She took into account the fact that the driver, now 18, had shown remorse by pleading guilty, and had not consumed alcohol since the accident and intended to continue his sobriety.
While Ms Douglas said there was little need to give weight to deterring him from re-offending, given his lack of prior convictions, the court of appeal "has made it clear that judges must send a message to people who drive motor cars whilst under the influence of alcohol or drugs, who exceed the speed limit and who take risks whilst driving, that this will not be countenanced.
"Culpable driving is a form of involuntary manslaughter, as a human life has been taken."
Ms Douglas said the driver’s lawyer had argued he should be given a sentence of three years or less.
‘‘Taking into account current sentencing practices a sentence of three years does not adequately reflect the seriousness of the offending and the weight I must place on general deterrence.’’