An “incredibly remorseful” teenager has been sentenced to 18 months’ probation over a crash that killed a 14-year-old.
The teenager had pleaded guilty in a children’s court to dangerous driving occasioning death in relation to the crash on October 11, 2018, at Yerong Creek.
In court on Monday, the driver – also aged 14 – was supported by family and friends. Relatives of the boy who died, and the deputy principal of the high school he attends were also present.
Defence solicitor Zac Tankard told the court “the whole town wanted to come to support him”.
Mr Tankard submitted numerous references to the court, with letters from people who were at the scene of the crash – including some of the other boys – as well as the 14-year-old driver himself.
“This is just an absolute tragedy,” he told the children’s court.
Mr Tankard said that in mourning for the boy who had died, the community had also “put its arms around” the 14-year-old driver.
According to documents previously tendered to the court, the two teens and five others had been camping at Yerong Creek when they decided to drive about four kilometres to charge their phones at a nearby machinery shed.
The 14-year-old drove a Toyota HiLux ute with the victim and another boy riding on the tray.
Another car carrying the four remaining boys travelled along the same route.
As he drove down a slight hill, the teenage boy turned sharply to the right then sharply to the left.
Those actions caused the ute to slide off the road and roll over.
The teenager had an “extremely real and palpable sense of remorse”, Mr Tankard told the court.
He said the 14-year-old had written a ‘heartfelt and powerful letter” ahead of his sentencing
In that letter, the teenager said he visited the grave of the boy who died and “I wish I could take his spot or be next to him to make it fair”, the defence solicitor said.
Mr Tankard told the court his instructions from the teenager and his family had been to enter a plea of guilty and not to negotiate on the facts in the case.
“He wanted to take full responsibility,” Mr Tankard said.
The 14-year-old was charged and had his matter mentioned in court only once before entering his guilty plea.
Magistrate Christopher Halburd told the court on Monday this was a “particularly sad sentencing exercise”.
He said he could not recall another case where so many references had been handed up in support of a young person or defendant.
These references were from people who knew the 14-year-old through all of the various aspects of his life, the magistrate said.
Sometimes, in an effort to support someone appearing before the court – especially a young person – those supplying references lost sight of the victim, Mr Halburd said.
“But that is not the case here,” he said.
Mr Halburd described the 14-year-old as “remorseful beyond words”.
In court, he quoted a letter, written by the parents of the 14-year-old boy, which said “no words can explain the words and sadness” they had been experiencing since the accident, “let alone with pain that has been experienced by [the crash victim’s] family”.
Mr Halburd told the court he was treating the matter as "a one-off childish act committed by a 14-year-old”.
The 14-year-old was interviewed by police the day after the crash, and fully admitted being the driver.
“I drifted a bit to the right and then pulled left, but a bit hard, and the vehicle rolled,” he told police.
“I wanted to do a little drift but I went way too sharp. I managed to jump out of the vehicle before it rolled backwards into the fence.”
The court heard on Monday that the 14-year-old had been willing to undertake community service, but was regarded as unsuitable simply because of his age and “through no fault of his own”.
“I accept you are as remorseful as it is possible to be. I accept that you have a very promising future ahead of you,” Mr Halburd said.
He said the 14-year-old was “surrounded by an immense support network”.
“It seems he is held in incredibly high regard by all those with whom he has come into contact,” he said.