A Latrobe Valley judge has issued an impassioned plea with the community after sentencing a Traralgon man over the deaths of two Sale men who were thrown from the back of a utility in March.
“Country people have got to learn that you cannot have people in the back of a ute. You just can’t do it,” Judge John Smallwood said in handing down his sentence at the Latrobe Valley County Court on Friday.
Twenty-two year-old Daniel Marinovich and 18 year-old Peter Clarke were riding under the closed hard cover of a Ford utility tub along the Traralgon-Maffra Road in the early hours of 23 March when the vehicle ran off the road.
The driver of the vehicle, 20 year-old Robert Saunders, was sentenced to seven years and three months in prison, with a non-parole period of four years for two counts of culpable driving causing death, three counts of conduct endangering a person and two counts of driving while suspended.
The court heard Saunders was driving an unroadworthy car under the influence of alcohol and at speeds of about 169 kilometres per hour at the time of the crash, with three others crammed into the front of the single cabin vehicle.
“It’s hard to know how you could have done much more wrong,” Mr Smallwood said.
Outside court the mothers of the deceased expressed their disappointment with the sentence.
“I think that people won’t learn from it. Young drivers will still go out and drink and drive and kill people because the sentences are getting too light and people are getting away with it,” Kirsten Clarke said.
Kathleen Marinovich said “laws had to change”.
“Two young lives have been destroyed, families have been destroyed,” she said.
Earlier on Friday, Saunders addressed the court and the mothers, apologising for his actions.
“There’s no words to explain how sorry I am,” Saunders said.
“I can’t take back what I’ve done, but I will try to do everything I can.”
In victim impact statements read by the prosecution in court, the women told of their grief since losing their sons.
“I feel cut into pieces like glass,” Ms Marinovich’s statement read.
“My son should not have gone before me.
“I force myself to do everyday things. I feel sick to my stomach every time I see a ute.”
Through her statement, Ms Clarke said her 15 year-old son found out about his brother Peter’s death through Facebook.
“Pete died at 2.30am. I rang Traralgon Police Station at 11am and they told me over the phone,” the statement read.
“To find out the way we did was the worst.”
The court heard in the hours leading up to the crash, Saunders finished work and went to Sale where he attended a friend’s house.
CCTV footage at a late-night venue revealed the extent of Saunders’ intoxicated state on the night.
He and a group of men attended the Kazbah nightclub and then the Colonial Club Hotel also known as ‘Ringers’.
Vision showed he entered at 10.10pm where he dropped his identification on the ground and “stumbled” when he went to pick it up.
He then consumed three shots in six seconds, the court heard.
The vision showed at 1.10am Saunders attempted to lean on a timber barrel, but misjudged and nearly fell over.
At 1.15am he was refused service by bar staff and given water. The vision showed he later spoke to a man and handed him something which could not be identified. The man then brought shots to Saunders and he consumed one of them.
He was later seen in the vision carrying a shot glass in each hand.
The court heard at 1.30am Saunders was in the courtyard of the establishment “stumbling and quite unsteady on his feet”. He left about 2am.
The court heard Saunders’ blood alcohol limit at the time of the collision was estimated to be between 0.15 and 0.17.
He and a group of men, including the deceased, decided to go to Traralgon to another nightclub.
The court heard at 2.20am Saunders lost control of the vehicle and it rotated before running off the road and hitting a tree.
Mr Marinovich and Mr Clarke were ejected from the tray and died at the scene.
Saunders was unconscious when police arrived at the scene. He told police in an interview that he had one hour of sleep between 21 March and the collision and he couldn’t remember going to Ringers.
The court heard the two rear tyres on the car were unroadworthy and Saunders had collected the vehicle after it was impounded in February.
Defence lawyer Shane Gardner told the court Saunders, a mill saw repairer by trade, had pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity and had taken complete responsibility for his actions. Mr Gardner said Saunders had a good work ethic, adhered to his strict bail conditions and came from a supportive family, which augured well for his prospects of rehabilitation.
“He’s prepared to roll up his sleeves and pay the price he knows he has to pay,” Mr Gardner said.
“These are crosses he will need to bear beyond the sentencing of this court.”
Mr Smallwood took into account Saunders’ guilty plea and that he had no prior convictions.
“Your prospects for rehabilitation should be good and if you avoid alcohol your risk of re-offending should be low,” Mr Smallwood said.
He said while the case was “beyond the parameters of a Youth Justice Order” he would recommend the parole board transfer Saunders to Youth Justice, which works with young offenders.
Mr Smallwood disqualified Saunders from driving for three years, earlier saying it was “almost impossible” for offenders living in the country to properly rehabilitate without a licence.
“When a 20 year-old is jailed for an extended period of time, to take their licence off them when they get out is gratuitous,” Mr Smallwood said.