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Crash driver's sentence appals hurt cyclist

The New Zealand Herald: Crash driver's sentence appals hurt cyclist

By Rachel Tiffen
4:00 AM Saturday Feb 20, 2010

A cyclist who suffered a brain injury that left him unable to remember basic words has lashed out at the sentence handed to the driver who ploughed into him.

The man was one of four cyclists injured when Jennifer Speakman, 20, failed to halt at a stop sign on Tamaki Drive last September.

The Papatoetoe student was this week disqualified from driving for six months and ordered to pay $1000 to each of the injured men, including engineer Greg Paterson, who was critically injured and in a head injury rehabilitation centre for months.

In the Auckland District Court, Judge Eddie Paul said he was legally bound to sentence at the lower end as there were no aggravating features, such as speed or alcohol.

But the penalty angered the cyclists.

Dave Wood, who suffered a brain injury, a cracked vertebra in his neck, two broken ribs, severe concussion, bruising and grazing, said he had chosen to stay quiet until now.

"Seeing Greg and hearing that sentence, which basically said there are no repercussions to breaking the law, it just galls me, to be honest," he said. "I'm really angry."

Mr Wood said Mr Paterson was a shadow of the man he was, and his life was destroyed.

"He can't work, he can't drive, the chances of him ever working or driving are nil."

He said the emotional reparation was a joke and his own insurance shortfall for cycle gear damage was $2500. While he didn't go out seeking reparation, $1000 was "an insult to Claire [Paterson] and the family".

Mr Wood said he bore no ill feelings towards Speakman and did not want to see her pilloried, but an apology would have gone a long way.

In court, her lawyer Frank Hogan said she had tried to apologise, but police said they had received only one request, for Mr Paterson's address.

Speakman did not respond to Weekend Herald attempts to talk to her.

Cyclist Kevin Marsh, who needed surgery on a broken knee cap after the crash, agreed she should have apologised.

"To hear an apology through a lawyer in court is pretty hollow."

In court this week, Mr Paterson's pain was evident as he shifted in his seat and grimaced.

Mr Wood said the prognosis wasn't good.

"He said to me, 'Dave, I have got to go back to see him [the doctor] this week and he's going to tell me I'm not allowed to get on the bike ever again, that I'm not allowed to drive".

Claire Paterson had said her husband struggled to make it past midday.

It had also been tough for Mr Wood.

"I was once trying to send an email and I was saying 'their information' and I couldn't even write 'their'. I couldn't figure out in the dictionary how to find it."

Speakman's sentencing came as the Auckland City Council committed $450,000 towards improving safety on Tamaki Drive - $330,000 of which will go towards widening cycle lanes along a 2.3km stretch of the road where "pinch points" occur between cars, cycles and parked cars.