Judge questions driving penalties

Judge Stephen Coyle
Judge Stephen Coyle
A Dunedin judge believes Parliament needs to ''have a long, hard look'' at the maximum penalties available for alcohol-affected and dangerous drivers.

Judge Stephen Coyle yesterday described as ''appalling'' the fact that all he could impose on 21-year-old Dunedin man Tyrone Kamal Henare for two separate incidents of dangerous, high-speed driving, one with a drink-driving component, was three months' jail.

But Henare had also admitted other charges, including burglary, assault and vehicle theft, which carried maximum penalties of up to 10 years' jail.

Otherwise, despite the level of the bad driving in the two incidents and the potential consequences to others, three months' jail would have been the maximum available.

''In my view, Parliament needs to have long, hard look at the ways of dealing with young men like you, driving and behaving as you did,'' the judge told Henare, who was sentenced in the Dunedin District Court yesterday.

The most serious charge was the burglary of a Nairn St house, which Henare unlawfully entered while running away from a man he had assaulted early on March 6.

But it was his driving, that night and on September 12 last year, which was ''the most appalling aspect of the offending'', yet carried lesser maximum penalties, Judge Coyle said.

The reality was that people who drove like Henare had did not face a significant penalty unless they caused serious injury to someone.

In the first incident, Henare, who was driving while his licence was suspended because of excess demerit points, led police on a 6km pursuit from Dukes Rd, Mosgiel, over Three Mile Hill to near Dalziel Rd, where the pursuit was abandoned because of his speed - 174kmh in a 70kmh area - shortly after 9.30pm on September 12 last year.

On March 6, when on bail on charges of dangerous driving, failing to stop for police and driving while his licence was suspended from that first incident, Henare committed a raft of other offences.

He was in Nairn St, intoxicated, about 1.45am and got into a parked van to sleep.

When the owner approached him and told him to get out, he punched him in the face then ran off towards Taieri Rd.

He unlawfully entered a house, picked up some car keys and a mobile phone, then used the keys to take the victim's Holden car.

The owner tried to stop him and called the police as Henare drove into Taieri Rd, crashed into a parked car and failed to check if anyone was in the car.

Police officers were talking to the van owner who had been assaulted earlier.

They activated the siren and flashing light of their vehicle but he accelerated away, turning into Dalziel and Mount Grand Rds, where his speed was checked at 120kmh.

He then headed down Townleys Rd to Kaikorai Valley Rd and on to the Southern Motorway, where he was doing about 160kmh before losing control of the vehicle and crashing into the wire cable median.

Henare refused to get out of the car, kicked at the police and was pepper-sprayed, then tasered.

He kicked a police officer and tried to head-butt another while being taken to the police station.

His breath-alcohol level was found to be 764mcg. Remarkably, no-one was injured, Judge Coyle said.

Counsel Max Winders said Henare was extremely remorseful and was focused on making life better for his family and improving his own.

His underlying problems were alcohol and synthetic cannabis and he wanted to change the way he dealt with things.

He had written letters of apology and acknowledged his driving on the two occasions was ''awful'', putting other people at risk as well as himself.

The judge told Henare he might have believed he was genuinely motivated to change things had he stopped offending after the first incident.

But he had engaged in ''the most appalling series of assaults'' and dangerous driving while drunk.

''You didn't give a toss about your family and didn't think about your partner and those in court to support you today,'' he told Henare.

On the initial charges of dangerous driving and driving while his licence was suspended, Henare was sentenced to four weeks' jail and disqualified for nine months.

For unlawfully getting into the van, burgling the Nairn St house and unlawfully taking the Holden car, he was sentenced to concurrent terms of 13 months' jail, the 13 months to be added to the four weeks' jail on the September charges.

Concurrent terms were imposed of four months for assaulting the van owner, two months for assaulting police, and one month each for resisting police, drink-driving, dangerous driving and failing to stop after an accident.

On both charges of failing to stop for police Henare was convicted and discharged.

On the dangerous and drink-driving charges he was disqualified for another 12 months, a total ban of one year and nine months.

Henare's unpaid fines were remitted and, in their place, he was given an extra two months' jail, taking his total prison sentence to 16 months.