Crash victim's family tells of their pain

THE heartbroken family of a Warrnambool mother killed while cycling say their lives changed forever in a second.

Mother-of-four Janet Baldam, 47, died on April 7, 2011, after being struck from behind by a red Mazda coupe as she was riding west on Hopkins Point Road.

Eamonn Francis Leddin, 21, pleaded guilty in the Warrnambool County Court last week to culpable driving causing death.

Yesterday, Mr Leddin appeared in the Warrnambool County Court for an emotional plea hearing before Judge Mark Taft. He was supported in court by a large group of family and friends, who described him as a dedicated, community-minded young man who shouldn’t be jailed.

But Judge Taft told the packed courtroom Mr Leddin faced a lengthy prison term.

Victim impact statements from Mrs Baldam’s immediate family were tendered but not read out to the court. Judge Taft said he’d read the statements and their sadness was shared by everyone.

Mrs Baldam’s three sisters told the court through victim impact statements of their loss and the difficulties they faced since her death.

One sister said her love for Mrs Baldam kept her going but her family would never be the same again. She said there had been no family photos since because the gap was too huge.

Another sister said she lived with the loss every day and couldn’t understand how the accident happened.

“I will never come to terms or accept what happened,” she said.

“It shouldn’t have happened but it did. It did happen and Janet is gone. The world crashed in just one second.”

Mrs Baldam’s parents told the court through their victim impact statement that they lived on the other side of the world and their lives had been shattered by a phone call which said their beautiful and loving daughter had been killed.

They said Mr Leddin had pleaded guilty without saying sorry and they lived every day with the pain and dearly missed their daughter. 

The court heard the night before the incident Mr Leddin had between three-and-a-half to five-and-a-half hours’ sleep after going to a show in Melbourne.

The next day Mr Leddin and a passenger, Jessica Cherrett, were returning to Warrnambool.

Prosecutor Aaron Schwartz said Mrs Baldam was an experienced cyclist and at the time of her death was wearing a helmet and a bright pink cycling top.

Mr Schwartz said visibility was good, the road was dry and Mrs Baldam was clearly visible to Mr Leddin.

When they were within 100 metres, Ms Cherrett indicated to Mr Leddin for him to go around. She said they were within 20 metres and then she heard Mr Leddin say “oh shit”.  Mrs Baldam was struck from behind and killed on impact.

When interviewed by police, Mr Leddin said it appeared he’d gone into a subconscious state and later said he only noticed the cyclist when he heard Ms Cherrett scream.

Defence counsel Helen Spowart told the court Mr Leddin was 19 at the time of the incident.

He had good prospects of rehabilitation, was a person of good character and would be very vulnerable if he went into custody.

She said it was the first time he had been before the court and, at 21, was terrified of going to jail. Through character references, Brauer College chaplain Julie Burch said Mr Leddin won a school award for his involvement in the wider community, the respect of staff and students and his attitude to his studies.

She said he expressed overwhelming remorse for what had happened and couldn’t imagine how hard it would be for Mrs Baldam’s family.

She said he was a very open, honest and trusting young man who would be particularly vulnerable in prison.

The court heard Mr Leddin had represented Victoria in volleyball and was heavily involved in coaching and refereeing.

Ms Spowart indicated a three-year jail sentence, partially suspended, would be appropriate, but Judge Taft said he was not attracted to that submission.

He said every bike rider had to be able to cycle without fear or danger. 

Mr Leddin will be sentenced next week. 

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