28 March 2024

Grandmother 'haunted' by fatal crash with three motorcyclists on Alpine Way

| Albert McKnight
Alpine Way

The Alpine Way at Geehi is a winding road through the Snowy Mountains that was, tragically, the site of a fatal crash in 2021. Photo: Google Maps.

A grandmother who was driving on the wrong side of the road in the Snowy Mountains when she crashed into three motorbike riders has been spared a jail sentence despite killing one rider. A second rider later died from unrelated causes.

Louise M Thornton, a 65-year-old from the Wodonga region in Victoria, was convicted and handed a one-year and nine-month community corrections order when the Albury District Court sentenced her on Thursday (28 March).

The court heard the rider she killed in the tragic crash on the Alpine Way on 18 December 2021, Roy Wilson, was a loving man who played a central role in his close family.

His family was still struggling to deal with his sad loss, Judge Justin Smith SC said.

He said another rider she hit and caused serious injuries to, Richard Jones, had sadly died since the crash as well.

“This, like many matters arising from motor accidents, is a very tragic case,” he said.

Thornton left her father’s property in Bega that morning to drive to Corryong in Victoria and took the Alpine Way.

Meanwhile, six members of a social motorcycle group were riding a long loop through the Kosciuszko Mountain region. They were travelling in the opposite direction along the same road, between Khancoban and Geehi, at around 10:20 am.

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As Thornton drove her Ford Escape on the wrong side of the road around a corner at approximately 62.3 km/h, Mr Jones had no time to react and crashed into the side of her car, rolled over the top, then landed on the road.

Another rider, Terry Robinson, hit the car and hurt his foot. Tragically, Mr Wilson then also hit the side of her vehicle and suffered fatal injuries. Judge Smith said it was likely his death was “mercifully quick”.

Thornton was on the wrong side of the road for 3.5 to 4 seconds before the crash but had taken evasive action just before impact.

Judge Smith said that before the accident, she had an unblemished driving record and that her offending had significantly affected her life.

“She must live with the guilt of having taken another person’s life,” he said.

alpine way

The Alpine Way is a steep, narrow, winding road between Khancoban and Thredbo, touted as a scenic drive. Photo: Google Maps.

The judge said she was born outside of Bega to dairy farmer parents, worked as an aged care nurse for 25 years, and had lived a healthy and law-abiding life with the exception of these offences.

Thornton had written a letter to the court in which she said she was “haunted” by the fact she has hurt people and only wants to be able to help the families of her victims but knows she cannot.

Judge Smith found she was remorseful, had shown significant insight and had excellent prospects of rehabilitation.

Her mother and father had been in a head-on crash after going Christmas shopping and the female passenger in the other car died. Judge Smith said her mother was never the same after the accident.

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Judge Smith said that while four riders were put at risk, Thornton’s offending conduct lasted no longer than one second and the tragic consequences of that small amount of time followed her attempt to rectify her error.

“There is no suggestion in the evidence of speed, alcohol, drugs, fatigue or the use of a mobile phone or anything else that may have affected the accused’s ability to properly drive her car,” he said.

He described her offending as “momentary inattention”.

Thornton pleaded guilty to charges of dangerous driving occasioning death and dangerous driving occasioning grievous bodily harm, while she was also found guilty of furious or other driving causing bodily harm in a judge-alone trial earlier this month.

Judge Smith said it was “no small thing” to have convictions recorded against your name.

“Members of the public should be aware this does constitute significant punishment,” he said.

Her driver’s licence has been suspended since April 2022. Judge Smith disqualified her from driving for 12 months, but this was backdated, which means she is now able to obtain her licence again.

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