Fatal collision: charge dismissed

A MAGISTRATE has dismissed a charge of negligent driving causing death against an elderly local man.

Before her and sitting in a wheelchair, 92-year-old Frank Charles Chattaway hardly heard the verdict.

His clearly relieved family had to explain the decision that had been eight months coming.

Moments earlier, in a lengthy address, Magistrate Geraldine Beattie said she saw no purpose in convicting and punishing a man of such “outstanding character” who was ill and had already suffered deeply. She dismissed the charge outright.

Mr Chattaway was charged in May following the April 15 death of local cancer coordinator Barbara Gildea in a road accident. Driving his Holden Commodore, he had given way to one vehicle at the Addison and Bourke St intersection while travelling west, but according to police and a witness, did not see Mrs Gildea riding on her Suzuki motorbike.

Noting an oncoming utility, he believed he had time to cross but in the process hit Mrs Gildea, travelling in front of the ute. The impact caused the 67-year-old to go into cardiac arrest and she died that morning in Goulburn Base Hospital.

Mr Chattaway had earlier pleaded not guilty on the grounds of medical evidence. But this was changed to guilty before yesterday’s 45-minute appearance.

His barrister Peter Williams described it as a “dreadful accident”.

“There are no winners and losers in court today. No matter what decision is made here today, the deceased will not be coming back.”

Police prosecutor Chris Toole did not appeal the Section 10 dismissal.

He said this was best left to the court.

He said vision and speed were not issues on the day and pointed to a witness statement quoting Mr Chattaway as saying he did not see the bike.

“We say that is what occurred,” Sgt Toole said.

“It’s just a case that he has stopped, given way, saw another vehicle but hasn’t seen the bike. He was of the opinion it was safe to cross but did not see the bike. It’s that simple.”

Mr Williams said Mr Chattaway had surrendered his licence last October. He had passed a driving test this year. Mr Williams tendered six character references.

“The facts were never in dispute,” he said.

“As you can see Mr Chattaway is gravely ill. At the time of the incident I’m told by his wife that he was a well man who regularly played golf and tennis but since then, his health has deteriorated markedly.”

His client had driven consistently since gaining a driver’s licence in 1948 and only had “minor matters” on his record.

Mr Williams argued Mr Chattaway had contributed significantly to the community, helping to establish Endeavour Industries. He had also been awarded an OAM, Goulburn’s Citizen of the Year and Senior Citizen of the Year.

“It’s a very sad, tragic occurrence for the lady and her family and similarly sad for Mr Chattaway and his family,” Mr Williams said.

Given the circumstances, Mr Chattaway’s health and his guilty plea, Mr Williams asked the court to consider a section 10 (no conviction).

Weighty matters

Magistrate Beattie said such matters were hard for everyone and very difficult when it came to sentencing.

“On the one hand the court acknowledges the seriousness of the charge and the taking of a person’s life from her family and community,” she said.

“She was simply riding north on Bourke St, complying with the road rules and expecting everyone else to do the same.”

Magistrate Beattie said no witnesses were needed yesterday and the matter was always going to be decided on medical evidence. She noted Mr Chattaway’s current heart condition and his guilty plea.

Tendered medical evidence indicated Mr Chattaway had a syncopal episode at the time of the accident and had no clear recollection of events.

In court he sat at times with his head in his hand and wearing oxygen support. His wife and another family member were by his side.

“I accept it was as simple as not seeing the motorbike and that is the level of criminality in this matter,” Magistrate Beattie said.

She said she had never seen references that spoke so highly of a person and noted they were from prominent members of the community. He had been Goulburn High School principal, was involved in numerous community organisations and was a former prisoner of war.

Magistrate Beattie said his “outstanding character” made sentencing all the harder.

“Of course sentencing will never make up for the loss of life and I’m sure Mrs Gildea’s family will understand that in time.”

She said punishment was not appropriate as nothing would go close to what Mr Chattaway had already endured.

Under Section 10 (1) (a) she was obliged to consider the person’s age, character, record, health and mental condition; the “trivial nature” of the offence; extenuating circumstances and any other relevant factors.

Magistrate Beattie addressed each in detail and stressed it was not a trivial offence.

“My sentence today in no way takes away from Mrs Gildea and her family,” she told the court.

“I accept it is not appropriate to go through to conviction and convicting Mr Chattaway will serve no purpose.”

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