By Cam Lucadou-Wells
A suspended, ice-using truck-driver who ran red lights and catastrophically injured a 17-year-old student on a school crossing on Police Road, Mulgrave has been jailed.
Chas Nicholson, 51, of Officer, pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing serious injury, driving while suspended and drug-driving at the Victorian County Court.
His conduct was a “gross breach” of his responsibilities as a truck driver. It must be “unequivocably denounced”, sentencing judge Mark Dean said on 20 November.
On 6 February about 3pm, Nicholson’s fully-laden tip-truck ran two red lights as it entered the supervised crossing outside Nazareth College.
The traffic lights were red for at least five seconds.
Nicholson didn’t attempt to brake, his truck’s speed was an estimated 40-47km/h in the 40km/h school zone.
A high-vis crossing supervisor was able to push two students out of harm’s way.
But student Willow Griffiths was struck by the truck despite her efforts to avoid it. She was thrown 12 metres by the impact.
Watched on by school-mates, an unconscious Ms Griffiths was resuscitated by paramedics.
She remained in The Alfred hospital’s intensive care unit for five months with an “extremely serious” brain injury as well as chest, spinal and skull fractures.
She will likely suffer life-long cognitive impairment, and remain in hospital through 2021.
Ms Griffiths’ recorded victim impact statement attests to her “enormous courage and resilience”, Judge Dean said.
“It also graphically underlines the devastating consequences to her of your offending.”
Impact statements also told of a “devastating”, “profound” impact on Ms Griffiths’ immediate family and wide circle of friends.
At the time, Nicholson was suspended from driving due to demerit points. He’d been previously convicted for suspended driving in 2009 and 2010.
He had amphetamine and methamphetamine in his system, which he admitted was due to smoking ice two days earlier, Judge Dean said.
The judge accepted Nicholson, a regular ice user, didn’t know the drugs were still in his system.
“What is clear is that it was prohibited for you to drive a vehicle with any amount of illicit drugs in your system because it was not safe to do so.”
Judge Dean rejected a defence submission for a combined jail-and-community-corrections-order for the former student at Beaconhills Christian College, Pakenham.
“A clear message must be sent by this court to truck drivers and operators of heavy vehicles that offending of this nature will be met by the imposition of a significant term of imprisonment on conviction.”
Nicholson’s deep remorse, “good” rehabilitation prospects and depressive disorder were noted.
Born in the UK, he had lived in Australia for nearly 40 years but was not an Australian citizen.
He faced mandatory visa cancellation and a possible risk of deportation, which would weigh heavily on him, Judge Dean said.
Nicholson was jailed for up to two-years-and-nine-months – including an 18-month non-parole period.
He was disqualified from driving for three years, starting from 1 April 2022.