Waikato man fights back tears as he's sentenced for toddler's death

Author
Belinda Feek, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Mon, 7 Sep 2020, 4:17PM
Lilah Brooks was fatally struck by a vehicle being driven by family which was doing a three-point-turn on the afternoon of December 8, last year. (Photo / Supplied)
Lilah Brooks was fatally struck by a vehicle being driven by family which was doing a three-point-turn on the afternoon of December 8, last year. (Photo / Supplied)

Waikato man fights back tears as he's sentenced for toddler's death

Author
Belinda Feek, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Mon, 7 Sep 2020, 4:17PM

A Waikato man who accidentally drove over a toddler "numerous" times in his driveway says he didn't realise he'd hit something until noticing the last "bump".

Michael Angus Murray wiped tears from his eyes in the dock at the Hamilton District Court today as he was sentenced on a charge of careless driving causing the death of 1-year-old Lilah Brooks.

The court was read an abridged version of what happened that day after Murray's lawyer, Marie McLeod, successfully argued to suppress the five-page summary detailing what happened but also how many times she was run over.

Judge Johnathan Down agreed to the request, as well as a request to suppress the amount of reparation paid to the family which he described as "substantial".

Lilah died after being struck "numerous" times by Murray's vehicle as he completed a three-point-turn to get out of the driveway they shared with her parents about 2.45pm on December 8 last year.

Despite Lilah being hit several times, McLeod submitted that her client's culpability was low, however that was one of the issues the judge told her he was "struggling with".

McLeod explained that as soon as they felt something, Lilah's grandmother, Joy Brooks, got out of the car and first aid was immediately given to Lilah.

She said the driveway itself was made of sand, was not even and had many bumps and there were often toys or even pieces of wood around.

"They just simply didn't feel anything until that last bump, as soon as they felt something they stopped.

"It's just a tragedy because it is accepted that when they first knocked Lilah over, there was a really narrow gap in time where, if Mr Murray had been looking in that particular mirror, he may well have seen her.

"It's 10 seconds of time that she was apparently in the line of sight of his right-hand mirror.

"It's the worst thing that could happen and they've lost someone that they dearly love."

The judge described the case as "tragic" in which there were no winners and told those present that no matter of sentence would bring her back.

Brooks was in the passenger seat and the pair discussed whether there were any children around the car before they began the three-point turn.

However, video footage of the incident showed a 10-second period when Lilah was visible in one of the side mirrors but wasn't seen.

Lilah walked around the back of the car as Murray began to reverse. The judge said Lilah appeared to react and tried to walk to the side of he car but was hit by the rear side of the car.

"You reversed the vehicle and it struck her and she went under the car and sufficient to say that there were a number of manoeuvres to complete the three-point turn, each of which, continued to cause injury to Lilah.

"I have no difficulty accepting that you and Joy didn't feel anything until the last manoeuvre as you started to pull out of the main driveway and that you stopped immediately after you felt that bump."

The judge said at "first blush" it could be hard to imagine how they didn't notice first hitting Lilah.

However, he accepted they were in a large car and in a farm court yard area with uneven surfaces.

"I suppose it is entirely feasible that any bumps you felt may have been put down to dips or bumps in the road or small pieces of equipment or material that may have been left out on the farm yard".

He said he believed their submission mainly due to how close the family were, despite Murray not being a biological grandfather, he had been close with the grandchildren.

McLeod noted her client's driving history and submitted he receive a 12 month disqualification, but she suggested that community detention wasn't warranted in the circumstances.

However, the judge disagreed.

He found there was a "moderate" level of carelessness given there were "numerous manoeuvres" and given the tendency of children to be walking around the property.

Judge Down noted that both Murray and Brooks now have to live with what happened for the rest of their lives.

Taking that into account, he also gave Murray "significant" discounts for his early guilty plea and remorse as well as "very significant" reparation to the family "which will help secure the family's future".

However, it was still serious enough to warrant sentences of both community detention and community work.

Murray was sentenced to community detention for three months, 100 hours community work and disqualified from driving for 15 months.