A Temora man has been found not guilty of dangerous driving occasioning death after he fell asleep at the wheel and smashed into a tree, resulting in the death of his elderly passenger.
Jeffrey John Cornford was driving from Temora to Orange on September 12, 2016 when he dozed off on the Olympic Highway just before reaching Koorawatha and left the road, killing 82-year-old Kerry Scott.
The chairman of an accommodation facility for the elderly, Mr Cornford and his wife were driving Mr Scott to a nursing home in Orange.
As he approached a bench on the Olympic Highway, he fell asleep, failed to turn, left the road, and ran into a peppercorn tree.
Mr Scott, who was in the passenger seat, died as a result of his injuries.
Mr Cornford pleaded not guilty to the single charge, and contested the case this week in Wagga District Court.
During his the trial, it became clear Mr Cornford was suffering from undiagnosed sleep apnoea at the time of the accident.
Crown prosecutor Max Pincott argued that condition was not important; what mattered most was that Mr Cornford ignored his signs of drowsiness before falling asleep.
“He said he began to feel drowsy, tried, and, in my submission, most importantly, he attempted to keep himself awake by rubbing his eyelids,” Mr Pincott said.
“He told police at the scene ‘I wet my finger and rubbed my eyelids with a little bit of spit, which brightens your eyes, because I knew once I felt tired there was a stop in front of the Koorawatha Hotel’.
”What you have there was an awareness by the accused that he needed to stop, he couldn’t drive anymore, and his wife would have to take over the driving.”
Mr Pincott also noted Mr Cornford had been becoming drowsy and had taken a nap most days in the early afternoon, which lined up perfectly with the time of the accident.
However, defence barrister Sam Pararajasingham successfully argued that Mr Cornford did honestly believe it was safe for him to drive for another few minutes until he reached to Koorawatha Hotel, where he planned to swap with his wife.
“The accused was unaware of the diagnosis – that meant he was unaware that the time period between a person experiencing symptoms of tiredness and that person falling asleep is reduced when that person has sleep apnoea,” he said.
“It would be unreasonable to expect him to pull over instantly at the first sign of tiredness in the circumstances where he was unaware of the diagnosis.”
Judge Gordon Lerve ultimately agreed, handing down a verdict of not guilty on Friday afternoon.
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