A YOUNG Warrnambool driver who hit and killed a cyclist failed in a bid to appeal against his jail sentence yesterday and will spend the next 20 months in prison.
Eamonn Leddin, 21, of Warrnambool, pleaded guilty in the Warrnambool County Court last December to culpable driving and was sentenced to four years and three months imprisonment. He had to serve 27 months before being eligible for parole.
Mother of four Janet Baldam, 47, was cycling along Hopkins Point Road when she was struck from behind by a red Mazda coupe driven by Leddin about 11am on April 11, 2011.
Yesterday, Leddin applied to seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Victoria Court of Appeal sitting in Warrnambool on the grounds his sentence was manifestly excessive.
That application was dismissed by Justices Mark Weinberg, Simon Whelan and David Beach.
In delivering the decision, Justice Whelan said the case was remarkable because it was absent of factors such as speed, alcohol, drugs, erratic or dangerous driving or distraction such as using a mobile phone.
He said it was equally remarkable Leddin had seen a sign warning of cyclists and observed Mrs Baldam riding about 200 metres ahead, who was wearing a pink high-visibility top, before the collision.
Leddin’s passenger also mentioned there was a cyclist and yet the driver failed to take any evasive action.
Justice Whelan described Leddin’s “zoning out” as “pretty extraordinary” despite there being evidence Leddin had only between three-and-a-half and five-and-a-half hours’ sleep the night before the accident.
The case is seen by legal experts as a new precedent for culpable driving, a charge which involves gross negligence causing death.
In the past, culpable driving cases have involved key factors such as excessive speed, alcohol, drugs, hoon driving, distraction or extreme fatigue.
Leddin appeared in court yesterday via a video link to the Langi Kal Kal Prison.
He looked fit and healthy, but had little reaction when the decision was announced.
Counsel for Leddin, John McLoughlin, had submitted the sentence was excessive due to the delay in the prosecution and exceptional circumstances — both surrounding the accident and Leddin’s excellent character.
Justice Weinberg also commented about the strength of victim impact statements from Mrs Baldam’s family, which he described as “very moving and powerful documents”.
The court heard the average jail sentence for culpable driving had increased dramatically in the past few years and would almost double again under soon-to-be-introduced baseline sentences.
There was also argument in court about the 21-month delay in Leddin being charged after the prosecution sought expert advice about the fatigue aspect in the case, which was eventually not presented in court.
Justice Whelan said Mrs Baldam’s death had a devastating impact on not only the victim’s family but also on Leddin, who had no prior court appearances.