Fleeing Dunedin driver who killed mate jailed

The fatal crash came after a vehicle fled the scene of a bottle store burglary. PHOTO: STEPHEN...
The fatal crash came after a vehicle fled the scene of a bottle store burglary. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
The mother of a young man killed in a crash is haunted by the knowledge that he simply wanted to go home that night but was instead left for dead by his friend who was driving drunk and fleeing the scene of a burglary.

Robert Francis Taylor has now been sentenced to almost five years in prison for the crash in South Dunedin last year that claimed the life of 26-year-old Michael John McClelland.

Taylor fled the scene leaving McClelland dying and his other three mates injured in the wreck.

His mother, Karla O’Connor, said in a victim impact statement that her son died a “senseless” death after he got caught up with what Taylor and the others had planned.

The group was involved in the burglary of a liquor store just before the crash.

O’Connor described the guilt, grief, and sadness that she felt as a parent, wondering what she could have changed or done to avoid his death.

Taylor, 30, was sentenced this week in the High Court in Dunedin to four years and 10 months in prison on a manslaughter charge, and six months on a burglary charge, to be served concurrently, having admitted the charges in March this year.

Justice Rachel Dunningham said the events of that night on Saturday, May 26 last year have had a lasting and irreversible impact.

The summary showed that Taylor had been socialising and drinking and shortly after 1am the next day, he, along with four friends, drove to a bottle store in Dunedin in a vehicle that had previously been stolen, and which had stolen registration plates attached to it.

The group decided to burgle the bottle store to get more alcohol, even though McClelland had wanted to be dropped home.

They took seven crates of beer valued at $370 but the burglary activated an alarm, and a member of the public called the police.

“When your group was confronted by the person who had heard what was going on and called the police, the group went back to the vehicle, and drove away with the car headlights turned off,” she said.

A police vehicle saw and signalled for them to stop but Taylor sped away dangerously to evade them.

Taylor continued at speed down Dunedin’s Melbourne St towards a stop sign but did not attempt to stop.

He struck the kerb and lost control of the vehicle which spun clockwise before hitting a power pole and concrete wall, at a speed estimated at between 86 and 92km/h.

McClelland was in the rear left passenger seat and died at the scene.

Taylor’s brother, Hakopa Taylor, was in the middle rear seat and was knocked unconscious and suffered multiple fractured ribs. Thomas Bridgman, who was seated in the front passenger seat, received significant cuts to his face.

Taylor then fled on foot without checking on the passengers and was tracked by a police dog handler who found him nearby.

The subsequent blood alcohol test showed he had 153 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood, when the legal limit is 50 milligrams.

Justice Dunningham acknowledged Taylor’s courage in facing the victim’s mother at a restorative justice conference, which had been some help to her.

In sentencing, Justice Dunningham outlined a long list of aggravating features including the level of alcohol in Taylor’s system, his aggressive and reckless driving at excessive speed at night, his failure to stop for the police, the fact that his driving had led to death and injury to others, and that he had left the scene.

She set a starting point of seven years on the manslaughter charge to reflect the aggravating features but noted it “could have been slightly higher” while the burglary charge on its own, could attract a starting point of around a year.

A 5% uplift was added factoring in Taylor’s previous offending and imprisonment on a drink-drive charge that involved a crash and injuries, which increased the prison starting point seven and a half years.

Taylor was then given a 20% discount for his guilty plea and a further 10% for remorse and rehabilitative potential.

Justice Dunningham was satisfied that Taylor’s background, including adverse childhood experiences where parental abandonment was a reality was connected to his offending and she allowed a further 10% discount to reflect this, to arrive at a term of four years and 10 months in prison.

Taylor was also disqualified from driving for four years upon his release.

 - Tracy Neal, Open Justice reporter