Reprieve for log truck driver – The Gisborne Herald

Admits moment’s inattention had potential to be catastrophic

Luck alone saved an inattentive log truck driver from causing a catastrophe when he lost control of his rig on State Highway 35 near Te Puia Springs earlier this year, Gisborne District Court was told.

Forty-two logs scattered off the truck and trailer unit driven by James Stafford, 42, when it rolled on a straight stretch of the highway between Puketiti and Te Weho roads at about 4.30pm on February 11.

The crashed rig and logs blocked the highway for at least two hours.

Stafford was taken to Te Puia Hospital with moderate injuries.

Judge Warren Cathcart, who sentenced Stafford, said the fact no one else was injured was sheer luck.

No other vehicles were on that stretch of road at that moment but there easily could have been, he said.

Despite the crash, the judge granted Stafford a reprieve from a mandatory six-month driver disqualification, instead imposing 140 hours community work.

The disqualification is attached to an earlier charge of driving while suspended for a third or subsequent time — Stafford’s third, on which he was sentenced at the same time as a charge of careless use arising from the truck crash.

There is no mandatory disqualification for careless use. It is only imposed at the court’s discretion.

Stafford’s application for a community-based sentence in lieu of mandatory disqualification (under Section 94 of the Land Transport Act) was the sixth of its kind dealt with by the judge in the same sentencing list.

In all cases, the judge stressed the reprieves were not something given lightly by the court.

To resort to granting Section 94 applications too readily would inappropriately weaken the legislative intent of the mandatory penalty and would often result in ad hoc, unprincipled results, Judge Cathcart said.

In this case, he would not have granted the application had Stafford qualified for a limited licence.

The judge noted counsel Leighvi Maynard’s “carefully calibrated” written and oral submissions in support of the application.

Mr Maynard pointed to the common misconception Section 94 applications were reserved only for recidivists on a treadmill of disobeying disqualification and suspension orders.

Stafford was not one of those people. But as per other criteria for the application, he would be significantly impacted by a disqualification which, due to his occupation, would render him unable to work, Mr Maynard said.

He acknowledged the court needed to weigh up competing public interest factors in considering whether to grant the application.

There was a public interest in Stafford keeping his licence and remaining employed so he could continue to financially support himself and his two sons.

But the court would also be concerned with the public interest to keep unsafe drivers off the road — the biggest obstacle to Stafford’s application, Mr Maynard said.

He accepted the incident had the potential to be catastrophic.

Stafford himself described it as “very dangerous”.

But Stafford was not speeding or driving in any dangerous manner. He had a momentary lapse of concentration when he fumbled with the lid of his drink bottle and the potentially catastrophic consequences would not have arisen if he had been driving an ordinary vehicle.

Stafford had no history that would lead the court to be concerned he posed a risk to public safety, Mr Maynard said.

He had three previous convictions for driving offences, but the most recent one (2019) was for failing to stop. The other two dated back to 1995 and 1996 and were for driving while disqualified.

The driving while suspended charge related to his suspension through an accumulation of 100 demerit points of which only 20 were for a driver safety issue — speeding.

He got his licence back after the suspension period and had been driving log trucks without incident before this incident.

He was focused on driving as a career and was completing a heavy transport course with a view to gaining a certificate to expand the range of machinery he was authorised to drive.

Mr Maynard also pointed to a relevant, comparable case in which the High Court granted the reprieve to an applicant only by a slim margin but due to a shortage of log truck drivers in Gisborne and the applicant’s employer being keen to retain him.

Other drivers granted Section 94 applications by the judge the same day were —

Cruize Te Aroha Adams, who pleaded guilty to three charges of driving while disqualified — each third or subsequent offences.

She was sentenced to three months community detention to cover the offending and the waived disqualification. It was granted due to Adams’ responsibilities for young children and lack of family support with them in Gisborne.

Rebekah Sapphire Peneha, 34, pleaded guilty to three counts of driving while disqualified and giving false details. She was sentenced to 100 hours community work, which also covered the waiver.

Her application was granted on grounds she has a young child who she regularly needs to transport for medical appointments.

Lyberty Kerei, logging loader operator and processor, pleaded guilty to driving while disqualified or suspended for a third or subsequent time — his fifth, his most recent being 11 years ago. He was sentenced to 120 hours community work and nine months supervision. His application relied on his inability to maintain his employment if disqualified and the subsequent hardship that would cause to his partner and their children.

His employer would also face hardship in trying to find another similarly skilled machine operator, the court was told.

Tango Diane Aranui was sentenced to 70 hours community work as penalty for the charge of driving while disqualified for a third or subsequent time and in lieu of further disqualification.

Aranui had made good her undertaking to an earlier judge that she would do what was necessary to get her licence back.

Raymond Darrin O’Keefe pleaded guilty to driving while disqualified for a third or subsequent time — his sixth.

He was sentenced to four months community detention, which also covered the reprieve from further disqualification.

It was granted on the basis he did not qualify for a limited licence and that his daughter has a medical condition for which O’Keefe often drives her for treatment outside of Gisborne.

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