Drug driver penalty outrages Gran’s family

Car Accident

Name : Shelley Hodgson

A DOTING grandmother says her life has been ruined by a drug-driver who was jailed yesterday for no less than a year.

“He destroyed my life. He has made me into a piece of rubbish. He has taken my life away from me,” Arsinoe Nikolakopoulos said in a statement through her daughter.

Mrs Nikolakopoulos, now 72, was driving home from church in June 2004 when her car and a speeding vehicle driven by Michael Joseph Taranto, 27, collided.

She was trapped inside her car, and suffered brain damage.

In her statement to the Victorian County Court, Mrs Nikolakopoulos, of Northcote, said she remembered nothing of her life before the accident.

She could not remember her parents or siblings and could not communicate well, cook, or look after herself or her three grandchildren.

“I’m embarrassed people change me, that I can’t go to the toilet … I feel like I’m a burden to myself and my family,” she said in the statement.

Taranto, formerly of Fawkner, pleaded guilty to negligently causing serious injury, using an unroadworthy vehicle, and unlicensed driving.

He was sentenced to two years’ jail with a non-parole term of 12 months and fined $700; his licence was cancelled.

Mrs Nikolakopoulos’s daughter, Nicky, broke down after sentencing.

“I thought, ‘Is that what it’s worth – 12 months?’ I don’t know whether anything is enough,” she said.

“A maximum for this charge is five years.

“I would have thought four years would have been good, given the circumstances,” she said.

No sentence would make a difference to her mother’s suffering, but Taranto “gets two years at the most and then he walks away,” she said.

Judge Tom Wodak said Taranto was driving at least 46km/h over the speed limit at the time of the crash, at the intersection of the Hume Highway and Major Rd in Fawkner.

His grossly excessive speed and use of cannabis were largely, if not exclusively, to blame.

“All too predictably in these circumstances, it was a matter of time before your propensity for driving too fast would have heartbreaking consequences,” Judge Wodak said.

Judge Wodak said Taranto was travelling south on the Hume when Mrs Nikolakopoulos emerged from Major Rd to turn north into the Hume Highway.

Some witnesses indicated that Mrs Nikolakopoulos did not stop at the stop sign. But Judge Wodak said that if Taranto had been driving at the 70km/h limit, he would have been able to stop well before any collision.

Nicky Nikolakopoulos said her mother was independent before the accident, but now “she can’t do anything any more.”

She hoped others would learn from their story and that Taranto would hurt no one else.

The court heard Taranto was suffering chronic post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.

Judge Wodak said he took account of Taranto’s remorse, guilty plea, and a delay in the case.

People Against Lenient Sentencing president Steve Medcraft said Mrs Nikolakopoulos’s sentence was worse than Taranto’s. “Weigh up what he’s got and what she’s got – who got the harsher sentence?” he said.

Taranto had six prior road convictions including two for speeding, the court heard.

“I think it (a one-year minimum) is laughable considering his past performance – this is not going to teach him anything,” Mr Medcraft said.

Crime Victims Support Association president Noel McNamara said a two-year maximum sentence was not enough.

“He’s as free as a bird in a year’s time, and back on with life he goes,” he said.

Source: http://www.thesundaymail.news.com.au/common/story_page/0,5936,19071582%255E421,00.html