Grief and anger have almost erupted into violence in the ACT Supreme Court as Ameen Hamdan learned his punishment over the death of his girlfriend Alexis Saaghy.
A jury previously found Hamdan guilty of negligent driving causing death, and acquitted him of culpable driving causing death, over an early morning crash on 31 October, 2020, in which Alexis was seriously injured.
The 16-year-old died in hospital three days later.
Nine members of Alexis’ family gave victim impact statements as Justice Michael Elkaim considered what sentence to hand down.
Her father Joel Saaghy spoke of his daughter in the present tense, saying she “is a genuine, caring and empathetic person” who “loves to make people happy”.
“She’s a vibrant, old soul and zestful, free spirit,” he said.
He described the anger, sadness, helplessness and fear he felt as he sat with her in hospital before her death, and the “755 sunrises and sunsets without her”.
Since Alexis’ death, Mr Saaghy said his world had stopped and he could no longer work, connect with family and friends, or enjoy life.
“Imagine a low-lying pressure like a black hole,” he said.
“Tendrils of emptiness pulling you into that black void … bleak emptiness falling into nothing.”
Alexis’ grandmother Maria Mura brought a photo of her granddaughter to court, and expressed the anger she felt since “my baby” died.
“I used to be an active and happy woman,” she said.
“[Now] I am bitter and I hate life, my house is silent and sad.”
She then addressed Hamdan directly: “I will never forgive you for what you did … for robbing her of her precious life”.
Constrained sobbing could be heard throughout the courtroom as the victim impact statements from Alexis’ aunt and two step-sisters were heard.
But emotions spilled over when Alexis’ younger sister was giving her impact statement, with Mr Saaghy accusing one of Hamdan’s supporters of laughing.
Members of both sides stood up, and some crossed the room, with heated threats exchanged.
Extra security was brought in to separate the two families, with one staffer stating: “Everyone’s hurting, everyone’s hurting today”.
The last to speak was Claire Wood, Alexis’ mother.
She spoke of a girl with “beautiful green eyes”, of the children Alexis would never have, shared stories of her strength, conviction, love and kindness, of a girl who loved dancing, singing, and laughing, a “cheeky, sweet little thing”.
Ms Wood described holding her daughter’s body and singing The Beatles to her until she felt Alexis’ heart stop.
“My precious, sweet child gone – I died with her in that moment,” she said.
She said life had been like “burning in the fires of hell” since her daughter had died.
“[She died] in a needless, violent and avoidable way,” Ms Wood said.
“The more time that passes … is more time Alexis did not get.”
Hamdan was going to speak as well, but given the heightened emotions his defence barrister John Purnell SC advised against it.
Hamdan had written a letter of apology to Alexis’ family in the past month, stating “not a day goes by that I don’t feel how terrible the outcome was and how responsible I am for Alexis’ death”.
Hamdan now suffers from a brain injury and has limited vision in his left eye as a result of the collision. He can no longer work as an apprentice carpenter and has instead begun studying a Certificate II in Electronics at Canberra CIT.
The defence noted Hamdan had no prior convictions, was a young man of good character, and would continue to suffer physically, mentally and emotionally as a result of the accident.
“With Ameen’s offending it is significant to note he was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and may have suffered momentary inattention or misjudgement,” the submission stated.
“What happened to Ameen is the sort of bad luck/inattention or whatever could have happened to any of us as teenagers when we were driving with our mates and girlfriend in the car, and in a moment of high laughter and high spirits, an accident occurs.”
Emotions were more subdued as Justice Elkaim read out his sentence.
He said he was faced with sentencing a “decent young man” whose negligent actions caused Alexis’ death, and that while character references described Hamdan as a good driver, he wasn’t that day.
“[This was] not, in the true sense of the word, an accident,” Justice Elkaim said. “It was a product of negligent driving.”
Justice Elkaim also pointed out the prosecution didn’t argue for full-time imprisonment and Hamdan had been assessed as suitable for an intensive corrections order.
For Alexis’ death, and a negligent driving causing grievous bodily harm charge related to his friend who was also in the car, Hamdan was sentenced to a total two-year intensive corrections order to be served in the community.