Jailed driver’s sentence appeal fails

A young driver who killed a Kiama triathlete while texting behind the wheel has failed in a bid to have his sentence reduced.
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The Dapto man, now aged 20, was sentenced last April to a minimum five years in jail for dangerous driving causing death and failing to stop after a collision.

On October 17, 2009, athlete Jason Stortz was on a training ride before a half ironman competition at Port Macquarie when his bicycle was hit on Marshall Mount Road by a Ford Falcon being driven by the then 17-year-old.

The driver, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, appealed Judge Paul Conlon’s finding in the Wollongong District Court that the collision was caused by texting while behind the wheel.

He appealed on a number of other grounds, including the severity of the sentences imposed and that a number of factors, such as his youth, had not been taken into account.

Handing down their judgment in the Court of Criminal Appeal, Justices Clinton Hoeben, Richard Button and Peter Johnson said the only reasonable explanation for the collision was the one reached by Judge Conlon: ‘‘That it was part of the texting process… which had allowed the vehicle to substantially stray on to its incorrect side of the road,’’ the written judgment said.

‘‘There was a compelling inference that it was this sequence of events which caused the accident and it was well open to his Honour to make the finding which he did beyond reasonable doubt,’’ the judgment said.

The appeal justices likened distractions such as texting while behind the wheel to ‘‘driving with one’s eyes closed’’.

‘‘The fact that many young people misguidedly engage in such an activity while driving does not reduce the moral culpability of the conduct,’’ the judgment said.

‘‘On the contrary… it is a further justification for why general deterrence was so important in this matter.’’

Although the man’s behaviour had improved in the weeks leading up to the accident, his poor criminal record and persistent driving while unlicensed were also relevant factors, the judgment said.

The appeal was dismissed.

The man will be eligible for parole on December 31, 2015.

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