A 67-year-old truck driver has been sentenced to 3 years in jail after he was found guilty of dangerous driving Occasioning death at Wollongong District Court.
Graham William Squires was driving in the lane next to a truck on a highway when he attempted to merge in front it.
He collided with the truck which led to a vehicle becoming engulfed in flames. As a result of the collision an elderly couple were killed.
The shocking collision was captured on dashcam footage.
Mr Squires will have to spend at least 12 months in custody before he can apply for parole.
On the afternoon of Friday, 28 June 2019 Mr Squires was travelling along the M1 Princes Motorway near Wollongong.
Dashcam footage showed him merging in front of a B-double truck in peak hour traffic at Mt Keira Road overpass, triggering a multiple vehicle pile-up.
In the ensuing crash a white four-wheel drive rear-ended the truck and was then hit from behind by another truck, causing the vehicle to burst into flames seconds later and killing the two occupants.
Those occupants were John Cerezo and Catherine Camilleri. The pair died in the inferno. The occupants of the other vehicles also suffered injuries.
However, these were not severe enough for Mr Squires to be charges with dangerous driving occasioning grievous bodily harm.
Dangerous Driving Trial at Wollongong Courthouse
Mr Squires pleaded not guilty to charges of dangerous driving causing death.
The trial commenced at Wollongong District Court. Jurors were shown the dashcam footage and also heard from eleven prosecution witnesses who observed the crash.
During the trial jurors also viewed Squires' interview with police that was recorded hours after the crash. Squires was adamant that he saw the grille of the truck in his rear-view mirror and thought there was enough room to merge.
He also told Police that the cars behind the B-double truck must have been "tailgating", otherwise they would have had sufficient time and space to avoid a collision.
It also became apparent that the 67-year-old was not aware that anyone had died as a result of the collision. He was first informed of this during the police interview.
Mr Squires' dangerous driving lawyers told the court that the dashcam footage showed their client's "prudent" driving, because it showed him checking over his shoulder and indicating before merging.
They also accused the B-double driver of "squeezing the space" in front of him to prevent Squires from safely merging.
However, Crown prosecutor David Scully rejected those arguments. He said that there was never enough space for Squires to merge safely.
Ultimately, the jury found Mr Squires guilty on two counts of dangerous driving occasioning death.
Guideline Judgement for Dangerous Driving Occasioning Death
When imposing a sentence for dangerous driving causing death, the Court must bear in mind the matters which were set out in the guideline judgement of R v Whyte  NSWCCA.
The guideline held that in an ordinary case, a court must impose a term of full-time imprisonment unless the offender has a low level of criminal responsibility for the accident such as momentary inattention or misjudgement.
What is an ordinary case of Dangerous Driving causing Death?
The following characteristics make up the typical offender in an ordinary case:
- young offender
- of good character with no or limited prior convictions
- death or permanent injury to a single person
- the victim is a stranger
- no or limited injury to the driver or the driver's intimates
- genuine remorse
- plea of guilty of limited utilitarian value.
Further, the Court should impose a penalty of at least 3 years imprisonment for this charge where the offender's criminal responsibility is high.
The circumstances which can increase your criminal responsibility include:
- extent and nature of the injuries inflicted
- number of people put at risk
- degree of speed
- degree of intoxication or of substance abuse
- erratic or aggressive driving
- competitive driving or showing off
- length of the journey during which others were exposed to risk
- ignoring of warnings
- escaping police pursuit
- degree of sleep deprivation
- failing to stop.
Dangerous driving charges are extremely serious. If found guilty, there is a very high likelihood that a term of full-time imprisonment will be imposed.
That is why it is important to obtain advice from a specialist dangerous driving occasioning death lawyer who has successfully defended hundreds of these charges. You can read about some recent cases here.
Sentencing for Dangerous Driving Occasioning Death
Judge Stephen Norrish presiding over the sentencing hearing at Wollongong District Court.
Ms Camilleri's mother had prepared a victim impact statement that was read to the court.
Judge Norrish said the grief and considerable emotional pain for the family members of Mr Cerezo and Ms Camilleri was palpable given the shocking manner in which the couple died.
Squires' dangerous driving occasioning death lawyers presented material was presented setting out that Mr Squires was from the mid-north coast of NSW. Wollongong was an unfamiliar area to him and he felt totally uncomfortable driving there. This, in combination with the heavy traffic that day could have contributed to the accident.
Judge Norrish acknowledged that the defendant had been deeply affected by the deaths due to his driving and had shown sincere and continuing remorse.
"He constantly reflected on his movements and actions leading up to the impact .and takes full responsibility," Judge Norrish said.
Judge Norrish also accepted that many aggravating circumstances such as excessive speed, alcohol or drug consumption, and erratic driving were not causative features of the crash. Rather there was a "brief period of reckless judgement" and that "this was not a case of abandonment of responsibility."
Character references were also tendered that portrayed Squires as a caring person and devoted family man who was always concerned for other people. Even his former partner said he always displayed generally sensible behaviour and was a cautious driver.
Judge Norrish accepted that Squires' management of services and full-time responsibility in caring for his disabled son could be taken into account as 'special circumstances' which allowed for a shorter non-parole period.
The Court heard that after his wife passed away from breast cancer, Squires became the sole-carer for their son who relied entirely on him for support.
The Crown accepted this was an exceptional case in the matter.
Despite this, he was sentenced to maximum term of three years imprisonment with a 12 month non-parole period.
Just before being led away in handcuffs, Mr Squires embraced one of his sons and patted him on the back before being led away by correctives officers.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.