Australia Day tragedy driver told men to get out of tray
AN Australia Day celebration turned to tragedy when a group of friends tried to drive a Nissan Patrol up a steep embankment.
The ute flipped backwards on the bush track and rolled several times, killing 25-year-old Shaquille Hosea Matekorah Eruera, who was standing on the tray.
Driver Jarod Trevor Michael Hamilton pleaded guilty to the dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing the death of Shaquille Eruera near Fernvale on January 26, 2018.
Mr Eruera, 25, from Collingwood Park, was a well-known sportsman and father of two girls who worked as a production manager for Merlo coffee in Brisbane. He also played rugby league for Swifts.
When Hamilton, now aged 24, was sentenced on Wednesday afternoon by the Ipswich District Court, it was heard skylarking or drink driving were not factors in the tragic death.
Both the Crown prosecution and defence legal team accepted evidence that Hamilton, after trying unsuccessfully to get up a very steep incline on a dirt track, had stopped the ute and told Mr Eruera and another male to get off the tray.
The court heard that while the other male got off the tray, but Mr Eruera did not.
The driver had not realised Mr Eruera was still on the tray, with his view obscured by an Australian flag draped across the rear window of the ute cabin.
In November prosecutor Clayton Wallis said the Crown would not proceed with its original charge of dangerous operation causing death when adversely affected by an intoxicating substance.
With no evidence offered the more serious charge was withdrawn and dismissed.
Hamilton then pleaded guilty to the dangerous operation charge.
Mr Wallis said the friends were celebrating Australia Day at the Savages Crossing recreational area near Fernvale when at 5.30pm five of them went four-wheel driving on dirt tracks then Hamilton attempted to drive the Nissan up a steep incline.
There were two females in the cabin with Hamilton and two males standing on the tray.
After a number of unsuccessful attempts Hamilton asked the two males to get off the tray then again tried to get up the incline at a greater speed when the ute flipped.
"The driving is serious even though it was not deliberately dangerous, or skylarking, or the like. Nonetheless it was dangerous conduct," Mr Wallis said.
The parents of Shaquille Eruera - Ipswich business couple Ken Fuller and Lily Eruera - attended the sentence hearing.
Ms Eruera revealed the depth of her grief as a mother who had lost her only son when she spoke to the court and paid an emotional heartfelt tribute to Shaquille who was born in Wellington, New Zealand.
"Shaquille was my life. I am truly devastated at our loss of a beautiful soul," she said.
"I am left in a state of disbelief that this has happened to you."
Defence barrister Stephen Kissick conceded that a jail sentence of between 18-months and two years was appropriate.
He argued that Hamilton should receive immediate parole, or that the sentence be suspended.
"It wasn't recklessness or disregard and he has demonstrated real remorse and regret," Mr Kissick said.
"He did demonstrate a degree of concern for people in the vehicle. He did stop and tried to mitigate that risk rather than just push on.
"He clearly had the honest belief the tray was empty. He stopped for that purpose, but accepts he didn't take enough steps to ensure and in that he fell short.
"It is accepted there was an Australian flag in the back window so vision where Shaquille was standing was impaired."
Judge Dennis Lynch QC said the group of people had been drinking alcohol and swimming that afternoon.
"You were observed steadily drinking," Judge Lynch said.
"There was discussion to go four-wheel driving on the dirt tracks.
"Shaquille climbed onto the rear tray, holding onto one of the bars.
"You drove. No one (in the cabin) was wearing seatbelts.
"There was an embankment of 20 to 27 degrees.
"You stopped and asked if you should drive up.
"One female agreed and you tried several times to get to the top.
"You then told both Mr Woodham and Mr Eruera to get off the ute tray. Woodham did so.
"It flipped backwards and rolled several times and he was ejected from the tray and suffered fatal injuries."
Judge Lynch said police at the scene detected liquor and Hamilton tested positive with an alcohol reading of 0.1 - (double the legal limit of 0.05).
"It could not be said you were adversely affected by alcohol at the time," he said.
"It had terrible consequences, but what reduces your culpability is that you did take steps to reduce that danger.
"I accept your assertion that you believed no one was on the rear tray.
"Although it was a dangerous manoeuvre it was not one that was skylarking or reckless, and although affected by alcohol at the time of driving it wasn't that your alcohol consumption was a significant contributor."
Judge Lynch noted Hamilton was a professional truck driver and since the Australia Day fatality had been caught speeding several times.
Hamilton was sentenced to a two-year jail order with immediate parole. His licence was disqualified for two years.
On Friday Hamilton will appear in Ipswich Magistrates Court on a charge of drink driving at Fernvale on January 26, 2018.