Community work for drink-driving

A Queenstown pilot was sentenced to 150 hours' community work and disqualified from driving for one year by Judge John Macdonald in the Queenstown District Court yesterday when he appeared for sentence on one charge of drink-driving causing injury.

Ronald Grant Stewart (51) denied being the driver of a vehicle involved in a collision on the Lower Shotover Bridge on October 21 when asked by police at the time.

About an hour later, Stewart, while still at the scene, admitted driving.

A subsequent blood test gave a reading of 137mg. The legal limit is 80mg.

Defence counsel Phena Byrne said a court-ordered drug and alcohol assessment and a separate assessment, carried out by the Civil Aviation Authority, both determined Stewart had no ongoing issues with alcohol.

Ms Byrne submitted the level of carelessness was of a ''relatively low'' level. Stewart had been ''momentarily distracted'' when the passenger in his vehicle, having a conversation on a cellphone with a mutual friend in Australia, put the call on to speaker and held it out for Stewart to say hello.

''He was momentarily distracted ... and turned [his head] to the left.

''When he turned back to look at the road, there was traffic in front of him that was moving ... 90kmh ... he'd simply nowhere to go and rear-ended the vehicle in front of him.

''Alcohol obviously affected his perception of distance and speed.

''It's a case of momentary inattention.''

Ms Byrne said the level of alcohol in his body was in the ''high range of moderate'' and had been caused by consuming three ''self pours'' of wine, likely equivalent to about five standard drinks.

The victim received minor injuries, described as a ''neck sprain'', requiring four physiotherapy treatments.

As of December 9 the victim reported ''everything is good now'', she said.

However, the victim's vehicle was extensively damaged.

Ms Byrne said aggravating factors were the harm to the victim and previous convictions for drink-driving and careless driving causing injury. Both of those convictions were historical, in 1984 and 1990, respectively.

''He is clearly remorseful ... he initially apologised to the person in the vehicle that night in the hospital.

''He works as a fixed-wing pilot [and] he has a certain amount of responsibility as a pilot with the company he works for.

''Civil Aviation Authority have done their own investigation - it's had some far-reaching consequences already.

''He would certainly be unable to continue as a pilot if he was sentenced to home detention.''

Ms Byrne said a community detention sentence would also put his employment in jeopardy.

''CAA have rules which would mean he [would not be able to] fly even if he was wearing an ankle bracelet.''

Stewart had made a ''grave error of judgement'' and was willing to make amends.

Judge Macdonald said in the circumstances he was prepared to accept the incident occurred as a result of momentary inattention and was obliged to impose the least restrictive outcome.

Stewart was also ordered to pay $5000 emotional harm reparation to the victim and $93 to cover analyst fees and $73.47 for medical expenses.

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