Monday, December 9, 2013

Man jailed for running into 'lollipop lady' while using phone

"It's not an easy job ... but, gee, from the first day I loved it": Sue Parsons back on the job in Elwood. Photo: Michael Clayton-Jones

Lollypop lady Sue Parsons A senior Westpac Bank finance market specialist who drove into and seriously injured a "lollipop lady" at a school crossing while answering a text message on his phone has been jailed for six months and lost his licence for four years.

Matthew Windle, 35, a former Australian representative ice hockey player, stopped briefly to check on the woman but then drove off to a business meeting before an ambulance or police arrived.

A Melbourne judge said it was a "shocking thing" to take a text message while driving and then "run into a lollipop lady just doing her job, trying to help schoolchildren".

Judge Tony Howard said that "people who drive like this should go to jail", given what the "road trauma warnings tell us day in and day out" about using phones while driving.
He described Windle's moral culpability as high and told him he should – as he expressed in a letter of apology to Susan Parsons and in weeping while giving evidence – "feel a great deal of shame and remorse for what happened".

Ms Parsons, 62, who sustained a broken pelvis, broken ribs and tissue damage on May 10 last year, told Fairfax Media on Monday at the crossing outside Elwood Secondary College that she remained bitter about the incident that "should never have happened".

The grandmother, who has worked in the role for more than 10 years, said it was not an easy job "because you take your life into your hands every time you cross the road".

Windle, who has no prior convictions but voluntarily revealed to Judge Howard that in 2009 he had received an infringement notice for using a phone while driving, had appealed against a six-month jail sentence imposed by a magistrate in March.

He had pleaded guilty to negligently causing serious injury, failing to render assistance after an accident, failing to report to police an injured person, failing to give his name and address to an injured person and using a mobile phone while driving.

Prosecutor Peter Triandos said that about 8.30am on that day Windle had answered the text message and "negligently took his eyes off the road", hitting Ms Parsons, who fell to the ground.

Mr Triandos said Windle had stopped his car, got out to check on her with a number of bystanders who were assisting and, when he asked, was told that neither police nor an ambulance had been called.

Windle then told bystanders he was going to move his car, which he then got into and drove off, Mr Triandos said. A bystander noted his registration number, which led to police interviewing him later that day.

Asked why he had failed to offer assistance, Windle said he had done so "to a certain extent" but admittedly not to his full obligations. "I wasn't acting rationally," he said.

His barrister, George Georgiou, SC, said Windle, a financial market specialist with Westpac, "castigates himself every day" over the seriousness of his conduct, particularly in leaving the scene, which was "very much out-of-character behaviour".

Mr Georgiou told Judge Howard there was no doubt that, if jailed, Windle would lose the job he "enjoys immensely, takes great pride in and works very hard at".

He submitted the conduct had not been accompanied by the usual aggravating factors such as a speed, alcohol or drugs, and that if Windle had not admitted using his phone to police he would not have been charged with that offence.

Windle said in evidence the phone had been in a cup holder in the car's central console when he reached down and tapped the screen to see the message.

Asked by Mr Georgiou how long he had been distracted, Windle said "momentarily ... probably around one second", then he had put the phone back and next came the "impact with Ms Parsons".
He said he immediately stopped, went straight to Ms Parsons, who was on the ground and conscious, asked if she was OK and helped others to get her off the road.

Windle, who recalled that others "reported they were going to call an ambulance", stayed with Ms Parsons for probably two minutes but "it felt a lot longer" before someone said he should move his car.

Asked why he had left the scene, Windle told Judge Howard he could not find a parking spot and "I got scared with everything happening ... fear kicked in and I left the scene".

"I feel absolutely horrible for Mrs Parsons, particularly her family," he said holding back tears. "I feel so terrible for what has happened."

Windle read aloud his letter of apology to Ms Parsons, in which he wrote "not a day goes by" that he does not think of her "great pain" and how sorry and remorseful he feels.

Questioned by Mr Triandos, Windle said that while driving to the meeting after the accident he had received a call from police but had continued to the meeting.

Mr Georgiou argued that the charges did not demand an immediate prison term and that a suspended sentence and a community corrections order were "open", while Mr Triandos submitted that jail of "some type" was warranted, but whether it had to be served was up Judge Howard.

In his decision, Judge Howard acknowledged Windle's scholastic, work and sporting achievements, the support of his family, very good character references and that he was "extremely remorseful".

Judge Howard also noted his early guilty pleas that were "associated with significant, genuine and profound remorse", and that he had volunteered the use of his mobile phone to police, which were all "important and significant mitigating factors".

But he said that the "road trauma message is loud and clear in our community ... [about] the horrible and terrible price we pay for road accidents", which was reflected in Windle's inattention with "tragic results".

Judge Howard considered that a person who chose to respond to a phone or text message "ignorant of an upcoming children's crossing, a lollipop lady in a very bright uniform" had a high degree of moral culpability, notwithstanding Windle's good prospects of rehabilitation.

"A message has to be sent loud and clear to the community," he declared, that in the exercise of general deterrence "if people act in this way they face the prospect of immediate custody", even first-time offenders.

Judge Howard set aside the magistrate's orders and imposed the same penalty, which included a $450 fine for using a mobile phone.

Ms Parsons, who spent four days in hospital and 11 days in rehabilitation before returning to duties four months later, told Fairfax Media she now walked with a limp and faced more physiotherapy in January.

"It's not an easy job," she said, "but, gee, from the first day I loved it." 2 Dec 2013

Could it be actaully said that the 'law' has got it right?

It must also be noted that a jail sentence does not always mean that, which can sometimes be misreported in the media.

Many times, since there is a 'first offence' the courts lean towards a 'suspended' jail term, which means one does not actually go to prison, as the prison system is overloaded, and judges are encourage not to sentence the offender.

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