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Let me start with a disclaimer of sorts. I have never been through what six Timaru families have been through since 6 August last year.
In five of those families, each parent lost a son and siblings lost brothers when a car smashed into a power pole at high speed near Washdyke in South Canterbury. Four kids inside the car, one in the boot.
The sixth family didn’t lose anyone in the crash, but it was their boy who was behind the wheel, carrying passengers despite the fact he was on a restricted licence, he’d been drinking and pretty much did everything he shouldn’t have done.
And I’ve got absolutely no time for what he did. The way people like him use vehicles terrifies me. In fact, I detest the whole thing.
And it was him, Tyreese Fleming, who appeared in the High Court in Timaru yesterday for sentencing after pleading guilty back in April to five charges of dangerous driving causing death. He was originally charged with manslaughter but those charges were reduced.
And yesterday he was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison. The prosecution had wanted six years, but Judge Rob Osbourne settled on two-and-a-half years.
So, like I say, I’ve never been through what these six families have been through and, like every parent on the planet, I hope like hell I never do. It’s one of the biggest worries as a parent, isn’t it? Kids and cars and alcohol. And time and time again, there are absolutely tragic consequences.
Losing a child - tragic. Living with the fact that you were responsible for five deaths - tragic. Knowing your son, through his actions, devastated five families - tragic. So there were never going to be any winners in the courtroom in Timaru yesterday.
But I can’t help thinking that, in sentencing Fleming to two-and-a-half years, Judge Osbourne did the right thing and the wrong thing.
He did the right thing, because there had to be some sort of consequence. You can’t do what Fleming did and get away with the old slap-on-the-wrist with a wet bus ticket.
If that did happen people like victims advocate Ruth Money, who thinks the two-and-a-half year sentence is light, would be calling for the judge’s head-on-a-plate.
She says she's tired of hearing the argument that an 18-year-old’s brain isn’t developed enough to make good decisions and how that’s some sort of excuse for bad behaviour.
She says a sentence is supposed to punish someone and put others off doing the same sort of thing, and she doesn’t think two-and-a-half years will do that.
But as for sending him to prison? I can fully understand why the parents of the kids who died want this guy behind bars. If I was them, maybe I’d want him dead too. The grief and loss in these situations is just devastating.
So I get it when I see the families being quoted in the news saying the sentence is disgusting and questioning whether Fleming really is as remorseful as he says he is. I get all that.
But is prison really the best place for someone in their late teens? If you take away the families’ desperate need to see some sort of punishment dished out to help them get on with their lives and take away the need to deter other kids from doing what Fleming did on that night, is sticking him in prison for two-and-a-half years really going to do any good?
I don’t think it is. And that’s where I think the judge got it wrong. Because what benefit is really going to come?
Once he serves his sentence, he’ll still only be in his early 20s. Some will say he’ll still have alot of life left to live then, something the other five kids in the car don’t have - because of him.
But how do we know what life in prison is going to do to him? Do for him?
He could come out a far worse person than he is now. I have zero sympathy for him in terms of the appalling way he behaved that night last year. On a restricted licence, drinking, carrying passengers and driving like a lunatic. Zero sympathy and zero time.
But I can’t see how we are going to get a better version of him, by sticking him behind bars. I just don’t see any good coming from it. And that’s why I think the judge yesterday did the right thing and the wrong thing.