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Guilty plea over fatal car crash

By astrosapien 13 August 2009 37

I figured that I would add the following after the general consensus at the time of the crash was that we would wait to see what the verdict was and resume the discussions from there (original post).

In case you don’t recall, I am one of the brothers of the mother in the other car.  My sister, her husband and their two young children were returning home from a night at family’s place for the Olympics opening ceremony when this occurred. Comments regarding the verdict below the report…

**Taken from the Wednesday August 5 Canberra Times**

    A young Canberra woman who was on drugs when she crashed her car, causing the death of her 16-year-old friend, was given a suspended sentence and community service yesterday.

    Ashleigh Jane Williams, 19, pleaded guilty in the ACT Magistrates Court to negligent driving causing death and negligent driving causing grievous bodily harm over the crash that killed 16-year-old Amy Ryan in Conder last year.

    The court heard that Williams was behind the wheel of a car that crossed on to the wrong side of Tharwa Drive early on the morning of August 9 last year, hitting another car that contained a mother and her two young children.

    Ms Ryan suffered a head injury and died almost instantly, while the woman driving the other car sustained a broken leg in the crash and 14-month-old son was left with a broken collarbone.

    Williams, who was also hurt, was found to have MDMA (ecstasy) and another drug, MDA, in her blood.

    The teenager wept as Chief Magistrate Ron Cahill handed down a sentence of 15 months in prison to run concurrently and wholly suspended, a two-year good-behaviour bond, 12 months of probation, 240 hours of community service and she was banned from driving for 18 months.

At the time of the crash there had been talk of drugs being involved.  To have it confirmed doesn’t make things any “better” or “easier”.  If anything it makes the situation worse.  It’s disappointing to think that there are people out there who have such a low regard for the safety of themselves or the people around them that they would do something so stupid as to drive while under the influence.   I think that most people have an idea of the effects of ecstasy on people who take it, although I was interested to learn that the other drug in Ashleigh’s system, MDA, is known for having “psychedelic-like effects, such as visual hallucinations”.

Given my relationship to the victims of this incident, I obviously feel a little let down in what I consider to be light sentencing.  However, having said that, I also know that just locking someone up for extended periods of time isn’t necessarily the answer either.  What I would really like to see, and hope that it isn’t too late to implement, is for Ashleigh to go from school to school and recount first hand to the teens at these schools the event and the dangers of taking drugs and driving.  I think that students who are entering their mid-to-late teens would benefit more from seeing the emotion of someone who was responsible for killing their friend than they would from just going to a police car lot and seeing a mangled wreck.  And I certainly wouldn’t put a ridiculous hour or year limit.  Each year there are going to be more young people thinking that they can do what they want and that it is all going to be ok…  Ashleigh has the chance to do something positive here and serve as a constant reminder that we all have to be accountable for our actions.

Anyways, I put it to you, RiotACTers…  What say you…?

What’s Your opinion?


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37 Responses to
Guilty plea over fatal car crash
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Addison 4:36 pm 06 Sep 09

Hi Mishymilo – well done for posting. People are usually so focussed on the offender that they often forget the impact on the victims of the crime, and the way it changes their lives. I hope lots or people read your post. Best wishes.

BerraBoy68 4:31 pm 06 Sep 09

I agree something has to be done and this sentence seems way too light. As for a deterrent for these idiots, I’m not sure there is one. After all the crashes and publicity surrounding P-plater related deaths, irresponsible driving etc I’m continue to be amazed at the irresponsible drivers on the road. For instance today, driving back from Sydney, my wife and I lost count of the drivers speeding past us as if we were standing still (and I had the cruise control set at 110km/h). To make matters worse, a fair amount of those speeding past us had kids in the back or were P-platers.

The only Police car we saw either going to, or coming, from Sydney this weekend was an unmarked one near Lake George (uniformed officers clearly visible as we went past)this morning. They seemed content to let speeding cars just waltz on by.

I sincerely hope your family continue to recover mishymilo!

Mishymilo 11:31 pm 05 Sep 09

Hi everyone,

I was the driver of the other car, my brother has been kind enough to keep everyone interested abreast of the situation.

I feel that because the case is done with, I can now write about how I feel about the crash and the sentencing and so forth.

I don’t think it was harsh enough. I know a lot of people are going to jump in and talk about how biased an opinion that is. Well, it is, but I also have valid reasons. I totally agree that she was young, did one stupid thing and has to live with the fact that she killed her friend and that will punish her mentally and emotionally for the rest of her days.

But I did nothing wrong, and I will be punished for the rest of my days for what this girl did. I have scars. Lots of them. I have lost feeling down my leg and in my tail bone. I will never have a fully functioning knee ever again. My shoulder continues to seize up. When I go to sleep at night, more often than not I re-live the experience again and again, and my now 3 year old son wakes up at the same time every night shaking and sweating, and we don’t know how long that will go on for. My youngest son had just learnt how to walk, and every time he fell down and had to pick himself up using his broken collarbone, my heart broke when the tears welled in his eyes. You try tell a 14 month old not to use his arm.

I get reminded of the accident whenever the kids get sick, because my husband’s and my sick leave got totally and utterly decimated because of our recovery.

This isn’t meant to be a ‘woe is me’ kind of thing by any stretch of the imagination. I totally agree with my brother’s point of view, mainly because she has to be held accountable for her actions and I really don’t think that the court system has done that. I don’t want to see her thrown in jail for breaking my leg, that is just stupid, but the fact that a young girl lost her life makes this a completely new ball game.

Digga 1:49 pm 31 Aug 09

An awful tragedy. Let’s home something good comes out of it to stop it happening again. The UK’s just created a Public Service Announcement highlighting the dangers of texting and driving and I would have thought something similar could be used in the context of drugs. They want to show this in all schools (assumedly to the right age groups).

This would surely shock most to thinking twice about anything that reduces attention while driving, as it’s quite affronting:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/wales/8203120.stm

vandam 5:34 pm 15 Aug 09

Astrosapien and ahappychappy,

Whilst there are people genuinely devastated by their actions and what they’ve done, it doesn’t change the fact that they’ve killed someone and injured others.

These things are never accidents or mistakes. Whilst there is no intent to go out and kill someone with a car, these people intentionally break the law by getting into a vehicle knowing they are affected by drugs or alcohol.

I would be less harsh if this case did not involve drugs. She has not be held accountable for her actions. She virtually got a slap on the wrist.

I really do feel sorry for the family that lost their daughter.

Again it is something that could’ve been avoided and again someone gets away with ending someones life short.

Granny 3:39 pm 15 Aug 09

Actually they do use stories like this in the ACT Roady Ready courses.

A young girl who was driving a carful of young friends under the influence of alcohol had an accident resulting in permanent brain damage to her friend. The trainers show a video where the participants speak at length about how it has affected them, including the mother of the brain damaged girl, who has had to give up her job to become a full-time carer, and those who were traumatised by the accident scene etc.

It is sobering, but obviously not making a real difference in the behaviour of new drivers.

astrosapien 10:04 am 15 Aug 09

Vandam and Jim Jones-
I’m very much torn on this issue… In this particular instance I completely and whole heartedly feel that Ashleigh got off so lightly that it doesn’t serve as a deterrent to other people. It really does leave you feeling like you can pretty much do what you want in Canberra, no matter the consequences of your actions, and you’ll get a relatively light-on punishment. I mean, kill your friend in a crash you caused by being high and you’ll essentially just lose your licence for a bit…

And you can harp on all you want about how she’s going to have to “live with it for the rest of her life” etc… It doesn’t change the fact that the people whose lives she forever affected around her are left with sh!t they have to deal with and had no say in the matter… I think it’s very off kilter there…

As for mandatory sentencing not working, well clearly giving them light sentences isn’t working either… Helping them “rehabilitate” or “rejoin society” are far too feel-goody measures and I think demonstrates a kind of naive outlook on the problems that our community are facing. Patting people on the back and giving them hugs aren’t going to fix problems. The other thing that really rubs me the wrong way on this issue is that there are usually more resources thrown at “fixing” the lives of the people that cause these problems (junkies etc) than there are of the lives that they affect…

Sheepgroper
Which brings me to this point. I think this is a kind of halfway, semi-decent medium. The reason that I think this could make a difference is on a couple of points:

-It keeps Ashleigh accountable… Hopefully, if she were to do something like this, by keeping it so strong in her mind, she would maybe be less likely to re-offend.
-As I said back in the first post, if she was standing in front of a school assembly of kids around the same age, and those students saw how this will have forever affected her life emotionally and mentally etc etc then I feel that the students would get more from that than just seeing videos, commercials and things like that… I think that when other media is used it’s too easy to lose that emotional impact… Face to face, however, I think messages can get across…

The reason I thought of the face to face seminars was from an incident in the US. A kid who was street racing in his car hit and killed a mother in front of her two young daughters. The woman used one of those scooters you sometimes see people using at the malls to get around. The young driver, and the brother of the woman who was killed (who is also now raising his nieces) go from school to school with the mangled wreck of the scooter thing to give first-hand accounts of what happened. The young driver said that it’s one of the hardest things that he has to do, but the looks on the students as he recounts what happens seems to indicate that the message is getting through to some of them…

But, you know, I put this up for discussion… It’s not like we only have to either agree or disagree with my idea… If you don’t think it would work, what sort of initiatives DO you think could make a difference…?

The way I see it we already have a number of things working against us… There is a dangerous “the bigger and faster the better” car culture that is present here, and a culture where “drugs and/or alcohol are ok” at work… On their own they are bad and dangerous enough, and too often they mix… Alright, so in this instance Ashleigh’s car wasn’t some hotted-up beast, but a car is still dangerous enough.

Considering these two dangerous cultures that are at play here, I don’t think ANYthing near good enough is being done to change the attitudes of drivers, let alone the attitudes of the young people who are just learning… SOMEthing NEEDS to be done…

Addison 9:58 am 15 Aug 09

Jim Jones said :

Neither mandatory sentencing nor ‘tougher’ sentencing has ever been demonstrated to have the slightest positive impact on crime levels.

better let offenders off scott free, then.

Special G 9:05 pm 14 Aug 09

Jim Jones said :

Neither mandatory sentencing nor ‘tougher’ sentencing has ever been demonstrated to have the slightest positive impact on crime levels.

Come up with some examples Jim. In New York a zero tolerance approach to minor offences has seen a marked drop in more serious crimes.

Special G 6:52 pm 14 Aug 09

Jim Jones said :

Neither mandatory sentencing nor ‘tougher’ sentencing has ever been demonstrated to have the slightest positive impact on crime levels.

Come up with some examples Jim. In New York a zero tolerance approach to minor offences has seen a marked drop in more serious crimes.

ahappychappy 4:42 pm 14 Aug 09

vandam said :

That poor family has to deal with the fact that their daughter is dead because some girl thought it was ok to drive affected by drugs. She has to be made accountable.

I was waiting for the “put her to the sword arguement”.

I agree, she should be held accountable. She has been. Sure it is a light sentence, however can you imagine the emotional toll this has taken on her? Yes, that isn’t going to change the fact that her actions caused her close friend to die OR bring her friend back, but neither is locking her up and throwing away the key. The family of the girl killed will have to deal with the fact that their daughter and her friends made a bad choice and it cost their daughter her life – NOT that “some girl thought it was ok to drive affected by drugs” and she “killed” their daughter.

As for your “what message are we sending” line – We’re not sending a message, that’s the problem! We’re not letting situations like this educate people. It is just like the situation with the syringe hold-up posted a week or so ago. “I was on drugs, I didn’t know what I was doing”… Until statements like that are used to prosecute and not defend we wont ever get anyone to take notice let alone be able to deter people.

I’m waiting for someone to now use the “I was too drunk to realise I was unable to drive” defence to get out of a DUI or other charge. If it works for illicit drugs, why not alcohol?

Jim Jones 4:25 pm 14 Aug 09

Neither mandatory sentencing nor ‘tougher’ sentencing has ever been demonstrated to have the slightest positive impact on crime levels.

SheepGroper 3:37 pm 14 Aug 09

Why the assumption that the killer going around to schools will make the students suddenly think twice about their behaviour? Again and again you see young people killing themselves or their friends through reckless driving and their schoolmates are shown on telly saying that that’s made them reconsider their behaviour – but all the previous publicised crashes obviously had no impact on them.

Only when it happened to someone they knew they started to consider that perhaps, maybe, they were doing the same thing.

vandam 3:34 pm 14 Aug 09

I’m sorry but she should go to jail.

What message are we sending to People if they can use drugs, get in a car and kill someone???

Collisions are one of the mostly expensive things that cost the government and people involved. We should be doing more and people should expect to go to jail if they drive drunk or on drugs, whether or not they kill someone.

That poor family has to deal with the fact that their daughter is dead because some girl thought it was ok to drive affected by drugs. She has to be made accountable.

I hope given the light sentence she is mature enough to do things as suggested above. Unfortuantly drug users only tend to think about themselves.

Woody Mann-Caruso said :

astrosapien: Think we might have our wires crossed. I meant comment #63 in the original thread predicting she’d get community service and a suspended license.

BTW – have fun on Sunday… 😉

ahappychappy 3:21 pm 14 Aug 09

No worries my friend. 😉

I myself (like Jim Jones) applaud at how you have stayed impartial on here. Takes a lot to distance oneself from such a close to the heart issue in the name of discussion. =)

astrosapien 2:59 pm 14 Aug 09

ahappychappy
My apologies there…

I didn’t mean to take your first post out of context…

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