Leaving scene of accident to be dealt with separately
After a Grand Court jury found Mario Pereira guilty of causing death by dangerous driving, Justice Howard Cooke sentenced him to 18 months imprisonment on Tuesday. “A life is lost and no sentence will lead to any resurrection,” he commented.
The victim, Winston Welsh, was crossing the road near Mango Tree Restaurant around 11pm on Friday, 12 November 2010. It was the night of festivities opening Pirates Week.
Mr. Welsh, 52, died of multiple skull fractures and bleeding inside his head. Pictures of the car Pereira was driving showed damage to the sideview mirror and windscreen. Mr. Welsh was found to have a blood/alcohol level of .165.
There was no blood/alcohol reading for Pereira; the evidence was that he left the scene, but presented himself to police early on Sunday, 14 November, and admitted he was the driver involved in the fatal accident. When police went to look at his vehicle, they found he had painted the rear of it black and had removed the windscreen and registration plate. He was 28 at the time of the incident.
Crown Counsel Elisabeth Lees said the driving was dangerous because of the condition of the vehicle. Its right headlight was defective: it was pointing inwards and downwards and was wedged in place with a piece of wood.
The Crown’s expert witness, accident reconstructionist Collin Redden, said that a standard Toyota Starlet like the one Pereira drove would project the headlight beam 168 feet. But the defective headlight projected a beam of 50 feet.
The issue for the jury was whether it would be obvious to a competent and careful driver that to drive that car in that condition would be dangerous.
The jury had heard that it takes 2.5 seconds for a driver to see a situation ahead and react to it. A careful and competent driver stays a speed at which he can see. Pereira had said he was going 20 miles per hour. But even at 20 mph, a driver would need 73 feet to perceive a hazard ahead and react to it. Therefore, even on Pereira’s version, his driving was dangerous, Ms Lees told the jury. Defence Attorney Ben Tonner argued that the collision with the pedestrian must have affected the light because the vehicle had been inspected just two days earlier and the inspector issued a certificate of roadworthiness. If the inspector didn’t notice the light defect, how was Pereira supposed to notice? he asked.
Among the points of evidence agreed on by Crown and Defence was an explanation of vehicle examination. Inspectors check whether lights come on. There is no equipment to measure the distance of the beam and no such tests are conducted.
Ms Lees pointed out that vehicle inspection is done in daylight, when it would be difficult to check how much light headlights emit. But Pereira, driving at night, would know how far the light shone. Further, Mr. Redden’s evidence was that the headlight had not been damaged in the accident.
Mr. Tonner also reminded jurors that one witness said Mr. Welsh had taken a couple of steps into Pereira’s lane, while the other thought Mr. Welsh had put one foot into the lane. Either way, they both put Mr. Welsh in the driver’s lane.
“Mr. Pereira did not leave the house that day intending to kill anybody,” the attorney said. Pereira celebrated Pirates Week as the two witnesses had. After the accident he panicked and left the injured man, which he should not have done… “but please don’t find him guilty because of how he acted afterwards,” Mr. Tonner urged. People never know how they will react in a situation, and leaving the scene did not prove how the defendant was driving at the time, he said.
Was Pereira driving in a manner that was dangerous, or was he driving a car so defective it should not have been on the road? Mr. Tonner asked. He submitted that the Crown’s evidence did not meet the high standard needed to convince them beyond reasonable doubt.
In passing sentence, Justice Cooke said he had to be as consistent as he could be with other sentences passed for this type of offence, so he had no choice but to send Pereira to prison. He said the degree of culpability was nowhere near an astonishing magnitude. He took the defendant’s previous good character into account. The mandatory minimum five-year ban from driving was also imposed.
Ms Lees argued that leaving the scene after the accident was an aggravating factor. The judge emphasised that this played no part in his sentence. “Let the Summary Court deal with it in its own way,” he said.
One of the admitted facts in the case was that Sean Clarke was inside the Mango Tree when he heard a loud bang. He went outside and saw a body lying in the road. Mr. Clarke rang 911 for an ambulance and followed the operator’s instructions, wrapping a T-shirt around the victim’s head and staying with him until the ambulance arrived.