Carlito Lomotos Opanes, 53, was yesterday sentenced to six and a-half months’ home detention when he appeared in the Invercargill District Court after earlier being found guilty of dangerous driving causing death and two charges of causing injury.
Judge Duncan Harvey held a one-minute silence before the hearing, after which the court heard of the catastrophic effect on the victim’s family following the incident in October last year.
"I can still feel the horrendous impact from your car when I close my eyes," the victim’s wife said.
The woman, whose name is suppressed along with that of her husband, said she was plagued by vivid memories of the aftermath.
She recalled seeing her partner’s "blood dripping from his shattered forehead, his eyes open but no signs of consciousness".
"True heartbreak is burying the man you love, the father of your children, on what would’ve been your 40th wedding anniversary," she said.
Opanes was driving west along Lady Barkly Rd, towards State Highway 6, heading to dinner with his wife.
"The sun was glaring and I tried to lower my visor to keep the sun glare away or to shade my eyes but then I still couldn’t clearly see," he told police afterwards.
At a judge-alone trial two months ago the court heard how Opanes tried to navigate the road by looking at the road’s shoulder either side of his vehicle.
When he realised he had passed the stop sign it was too late. Opanes was travelling at 77kmh at the time of impact, crash investigators found.
"I tried to stop but I really hit him," he said.
While the defendant accepted he was driving carelessly, he asserted it did not reach the higher threshold of dangerousness.
Judge Harvey rejected that.
"I found that continuing to drive at that speed in the circumstances where you couldn’t see the road ... was inherently dangerous".
The judge said such sentencings were "extremely difficult".
"No penalty imposed can ever reflect the devastation of the accident," he said.
That devastation was underscored by the victim’s son, who described the ordeal of seeing his father clinging to life in intensive care.
The man said the sights and sounds were etched in his mind, "especially the haunting sound of the ventilator".
His mother paid tribute to her husband as an amazing husband, father and grandfather and highlighted his countless hours devoted to several organisations through his life.
"I’m now full of fear, unable to sleep or eat properly. Worst of all is the crippling silence of loneliness," she said.
Opanes was banned from driving for 18 months.
He paid the victim’s family $7000, which the court heard would be donated to St Vincent de Paul.