Family says system fails to support key messages. NICOLE FERRIE reports.
AS the sentence was delivered, Hailey O’Grady’s family sat in silence.
Their hearts were heavy and aching for a loved one lost years before her time – but at that moment, they were angry.
“It was like a kick in the guts’’ Hailey’s mother, Bev Steart said.
“He got a two year suspended sentence and loss of licence, but had taken my daughter’s life.
“He didn’t even get a fine. He just has to be good for two years.
“This young fellow made a conscious decision knowing he was tired and fatigued that night … to get in that car and drive.
“And what are we left with?’’
They said Hailey’s name, that there had been an accident and that it was fatal. That was how I was told my daughter was dead.
What Bev and her family were left with was a knock on the door at 4am.
As Hailey’s body still lay on the Calder Freeway near Diggers Rest, two police officers were standing on her mother’s doorstep in Bendigo.
“I can remember watching the news one night and talking to Hailey about that knock on the door from the police and saying I don’t know what I would do if that ever happened to me or how I would handle that situation,’’ Bev told the court in her victim impact statement.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think this would happen to me.
“They said Hailey’s name, that there had been an accident and that it was fatal. That was how I was told my daughter was dead. And in that moment, my life changed forever.’’
Four hours earlier, on March 25 last year, Hailey and a friend were on their way home from a concert in Melbourne.
They stopped at Calder Park before continuing their journey.
So too, did Christopher Anthony Micallef, who was on his way to Sunbury.
Hailey’s friend stood behind him in the queue and saw Micallef purchase No Doz.
Vision of that purchase would later be used as evidence in court, but observations were made by the Judge Montgomery and both the prosecuting and defence legal teams that Micallef did not appear tired.
The pair soon left Calder Park but pulled over near the Diggers Rest exit so Hailey could get something out of the rear of her car.
Seconds later, she was dead.
Micallef had left Calder Park shortly after the pair and according to court transcripts, “either dozed off … or had a mini-sleep’’ before veering 30cm into the emergency lane just prior to colliding with Hailey’s car.
It took about three minutes from when he left Calder Park to when he had the “mini-sleep’’ and crashed.
The court was told Micallef was not feeling tired, but “physically felt a bit wrecked’’ at the time after a long day.
He was not speeding, had not consumed alcohol or drugs and his vehicle was roadworthy – but Micallef had purchased No Doz because he was aware he might become fatigued.
It would be a week later before 24-year-old Hailey’s body was returned to Bendigo.
On April 2, her family said their goodbyes.
Bev’s statement to Micallef, and told in person to the court, is one of a mother lost in grief.
“I was extremely anxious wondering how she would look.
"Your (Micallef’s) actions resulted in Hailey’s body having multiple injuries – fractured arms, legs, neck, pelvis and face, causing her death.
“When I saw Hailey lying in the coffin, I fell to my knees hysterically crying and I remember yelling out to my family members ‘It’s okay, she looks beautiful’.
“That was the hardest thing I have done in my life, seeing my daughter dead lying in her coffin.
“No parent should have to experience that. I touched her hair and face, I kissed her.
“I asked the funeral director if he could sit her up so I could give her a cuddle, as I held Hailey in my arms I knew this was the last time I would do this.’’
On the day of Hailey’s funeral, Bev sat with her daughter and held her hand.
She told Hailey who was attending her funeral and described what was happening around her.
“The hardest thing for me that day was that it was time to screw the lid down on Hailey’s coffin,'' she said.
"I fell to pieces knowing it was the last time I would physically see her body.’’
On November 27, and after a plea of guilty to one charge of dangerous driving causing death, Micallef was given a two year suspended jail sentence and lost his licence for the same time.
The court was told Micallef had gone from being a happy, independent person to one who was deeply affected by guilt, despairing and in shock.
“But I read out my victim impact statement from the court and there was not one sign of emotion from this young fella – not one,’’ Bev said.
“He just has to be good for two years.
“He may be a decent fella, but he made a very, very bad decision that night.’’
Judge Montgomery said assessing the moral culpability by the use of ranking terms such as low, medium and high was a difficult task for a sentencing judge.
He noted Micallef's driving was not in the ''highest or worst bracket''.
“There is no evidence of any other errant driving prior to the impact.
"Because of my conclusion that you were aware of the possibility of tiredness, I would place it in the low-to-middle level of moral culpability.
“Instead of taking No Doz, perhaps a better course would have been to pull over and have a quick sleep. I would place the objective seriousness of your driving at the same level.
“The basic purposes for which the court may impose a sentence of punishment, include deterrence both specific and general, rehabilitation, denunciation and protection of the community.
“In sentencing, I must have regard to a range of matters such as the seriousness of the offence, your culpability for it, your personal circumstances and those of the victim, if any.
"I am required to balance the interests of the community in denouncing criminal conduct, the interests of the community in seeking to ensure that as far as possible, offenders are rehabilitated and reintegrated into society.
“General deterrence is an important sentencing factor here, and that the sentence should be a deterrent to others from following a similar course of driving dangerously.
“It is clear under s.6AAA of the Sentencing Act, but for your plea of guilty I would have sentenced you to a term of imprisonment, if you were convicted by a jury, of five years for a non-parole period of three years.’’
But Hailey’s sister Melissa Fry and brother Cameron Abley and their families believe the sentence does not reflect a loss of life, and they are angry.
“We are very angry, very frustrated with the justice system,’’ Melissa said.
“It’s hard to describe how you are in those moments, how you are when you’re in that court and you are sitting on your side like a wedding and he is on his side and his family are all there with his support unit.
“They’re fighting for him to not get jail, yet we are the ones here trying to fight for something so her death is not in vain.
“To stand up and say this is not right – you made the choice to drive the car when you were fatigued, there are consequences for everybody’s actions.
“You hear the judge saying what he is saying and then you walk out and he (Micallef) gets to go home with his family and he can continue on with his life, get married, have children do whatever he wants to and we just leave there with nothing, and no Hailey.
“You expect as a citizen the law will protect you, the law will do the right thing – it will give consequences to those who have done the wrong thing, but we walked away with no faith or comfort in our justice system.
“We’re not saying we wanted him to do jail time, but we believe at least a four or five year suspended sentence.
“His life needs to be severely impacted for quite a while.
“We often get people say ‘well, he has to live with that for the rest of his life’ – but what are we left with?
“We miss Hailey terribly.’’
Hailey’s family believes the justice system does not support the key safe driving messages issued by Victoria Police, the State Emergency Service and Transport Accident Commission.
“We feel very sorry for the police and the amazing job that they do,’’ Melissa said.
“Unfortunately our justice system does not support our police, the SES or the TAC and the awareness they are trying to get out to the public about driving fatigued and distracted.
“My sister’s death is a terrible example that you can kill someone by veering into an emergency lane and as you are unsure exactly what happened get away with taking a life.’’
Her mother agrees.
Bev knows nothing the family says or does will bring Hailey back, but hopes their story will help others stop and think before they get behind the wheel.
“He was a danger to not only Hailey but everyone else who was driving that road that night – and himself,’’ she said.
“He could have killed himself and his parents would have been in the same position as us.
“Don’t drive when you’re tired, when you’re fatigued.
“Have a rest, have a sleep on the side of the road.’’