The speeding driver who killed Sue Salthouse will have to spend three months in jail for causing the death of the influential leader and advocate for disability rights, the ACT’s chief justice has said.
She also warned 35-year-old Mitchell Ryan Laidlaw, “If you find yourself arrested for drug driving again, you will be in a world of pain”.
On Tuesday (23 August), ACT Supreme Court Chief Justice Lucy McCallum sentenced him to two years and three months’ jail, to be suspended once he serves three months if he enters into a two-year good behaviour order (GBO).
He was driving at 10 km/h over the speed limit when he hit Ms Salthouse’s wheelchair-accessible motorcycle from behind while they were travelling along Commonwealth Avenue on 20 July 2020.
The collision made Ms Salthouse hit her head on the bonnet of his Nissan Navara ute and she crashed into the road’s median strip.
She was taken to hospital but died overnight from the multiple injuries she had received.
“The death of Ms Salthouse has clearly left a gaping hole in the lives of her loved ones,” she said.
She drew particular attention to a statement by Ms Salthouse’s stepson, Alex Fearnside.
“Mr Laidlaw, I know that your role in Sue’s death has also been a tragedy for you and your family,” Mr Fearnside said, thanking him for pleading guilty.
“Lastly, Mr Laidlaw, I want you to know, I bear you no ill will.”
Chief Justice McCallum said these comments showed “the goodness and kindness Ms Salthouse conveyed throughout her life”.
Laidlaw admitted he took methamphetamine at a party a few days before the crash. He said it didn’t affect his driving and this was the only time he’d taken the drug before.
But, the chief justice said, this latter statement was a lie.
A court report said there had been greater drug use in his life than he previously admitted. He first took drugs when young and started again several years before the crash.
He had a drug driving conviction from 2015 and was remanded into custody after being arrested for driving offences in June and July this year – including drug driving with meth in his system.
“I was staggered, having sat through listening to those victim impact statements, staggered … that he would resort to the use of methamphetamine again and drive,” Chief Justice McCallum said in July about this recent behaviour.
The pre-sentence report said his explanation for returning to drugs was to cope with stress, including financial strain, and he had spiralled into their use due to the unknowns from his court proceedings.
The report’s author’s found he had a medium-high risk of reoffending, with a significant factor being the “dishonesty” he displayed to them.
Laidlaw pleaded guilty to culpable driving causing death and drug driving as a repeat offender over the crash.
He was devastated when he heard of Ms Salthouse’s death, with his mother Deborah Laidlaw describing him as “inconsolable”.
Chief Justice McCallum said the crash was caused by his momentary inattention and did not involve drugs. She ultimately found his offence was at the lower end of seriousness for his charge.
He was convicted and will be released from jail on 8 October 2022 if he signs his GBO, as he has been in custody since July. He was also disqualified from driving for two years.
Laidlaw, who the chief justice accepted had shown significant remorse, was seen wiping his eyes after she handed down her sentence.
He has already been sentenced in the Magistrates Court for his driving offences from earlier this year.