Ten months jail for drunk driver who caused death of ‘hardworking’ Beswick father

by | Sep 21, 2020 | Court | 0 comments

A woman whose reckless driving caused a car to roll over and pitch end-to-end, causing he death of a father of four last year, has been jailed following a five-day trial heard in the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory.

Rhiannon Ponto, 24 of Bulman and Minyerri, will spend 10 months in prison after a jury found her guilty for dangerous driving causing the death of brother-in-law Harry Forbes and dangerous driving causing serious harm to her cousin Lucille Thompson in a horror crash while driving with an alcohol level between 0.113 to 0.172.

In his sentencing remarks Justice Peter Barr said the crash occurred on the Stuart Highway between Pine Creek somewhere close to 30km south of the town, on a rainy day about 6.30pm on January 24, 2019.

He said that despite never having held a full licence, Ponto was driving a red Holden Commodore sedan which belonged to Mr Forbes, who was asleep on the back seat of the car.

Lucille Thompson, who was sitting in the front passenger seat, was raced to hospital with cuts and broken bones, and spent three weeks in a critical condition.

Justice Barr said that earlier in the day Mr Forvbes had been driving the women around Katherine trying to buy alcohol but could not because they could not find someone with a Katherine address on their licence to purchase it for them. He said then Mr Forbes drove them about 90km to Pine Creek but could only buy a six pack of rum and Coke from the Lazy Lizard Tavern for reasons that were not explained.

He said the trio wanted more grog so Mr Forbes drove about 60km on the Kakadu Highway to the Mary River Roadhouse, where all three drank two cans of the premix rum each on the way.

About 4.40pm Mr Forbes bought a 30-can pack of VB beer and two 750ml bottle of Bundaberg rum and he then drove back towards Pine Creek.

“After driving for a little while, Harry stopped the vehicle,” Justice Barr said.

“At that stage he and you drank rum straight from one of the rum bottles, he had purchased…”

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Justice Barr said Ponto agreed that she had had a lot of rum, and he said Mr Forbes also had a high level of alcohol level in his system, while Ms Thompson, a key witness in the case, “drank considerably less alcohol”. Mr Forbes had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.31 per cent at the time of the crash when he was tested after his death. Justice Barr said Ponto has also shared a marijuana joint that has been rolled.

“Lucille gave evidence that she asked to take over the driving from you on three occasions, but that you refused, saying, ‘I’m all right to drive,’” Justice Barr said.

“I am satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that it was not reasonable for you to believe that you were all right to drive.

“I do not accept your evidence as to the attempts made by you to have your passengers wear seatbelts. Rather, I accept the evidence of Lucille Thompson that you did not mention seatbelts.”

Justice Barr said Ponto admitted she took her eyes off the road for three seconds and was looking at Ms Thompson while driving on an extended bend before driving off the road causing the car to roll several times and pitch end-to-end.

Her said it was likely Ponto was “in denial after the crash”, and subsequently attempted to absolve herself from some of the responsibility.

Justice Barr said he did not accept Ponto’s claim she had stopped drinking prior to the crash, and that her alcohol level was high because she drank two cans of VB after the crash.

“I consider it most unlikely that you would have stopped to pick up and then open a can of VB and then taken the time to drink it when you could hear Lucille screaming for help,” he said.

In victim impact statements the court heard Ms Thompson continues to “feel angry thinking back to what happened on the day of the crash”.

“She also has flashback memories and has difficulty travelling past the spot where the accident happened… When she was in hospital, she was very fearful for some days, because she was told that doctors might have to amputate her leg.”

Mr Forbe’s sister also provided a statement outlining “a very personal account of her feelings of loss, loneliness and also anger”.

“The court has also received a victim impact statement prepared by Patricia Curtis and Valerie Curtis; Harry’s mother and aunt respectively. That one makes for very sad reading. Those ladies referred to Harry’s relationship with his four daughters, and their sadness at his loss. He was also a father to many of his nieces and nephews,” Justice Barr said.

Ponto will spend 10 months in prison before being released on a suspended sentence for an additional three years. The three year period stipulates no alcohol and that she be subject to supervision by a Probation and Parole officer.

 

 

 

 

 

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