The actions of an alcohol and drug affected man who caused a fatal head-on crash on a motorway had a catastrophic impact on the victim’s family, a judge says.
Benjamin Mark Dods, 30, pleaded guilty to manslaughter, conspiring to deal a class A controlled drug, DMT2 and a class B controlled drug, MDMA, otherwise known as ecstasy.
In the High Court in Tauranga yesterday, he was sentenced to a jail term of four years eight months and disqualified from driving for three years – a term to start after his release from prison. He was also sentenced to six months’ imprisonment on each of the drugs charges, to be served concurrently.
He was also given a warning under the three strikes law.
Justice Moore acknowledged the family of the man who died, Ui Phonphong, his widow, Minyi, two daughters, parents and siblings, who participated in the sentencing online.
He told Dods that the consequences of his “incredibly selfish decision” to drive while affected by alcohol and drugs, had led to to “catastrophic” consequences for his victim’s family.
“A loving and tight knit family has been torn apart by grief. I hope this knowledge will operate as an incentive to you to turn your life around and focus on your own two young children.”
In the judge’s summary of facts, he said that in January Dods arranged to buy three grams of DMT and one gram of ecstasy from a dealer.
After arranging the deal via text messages, he worked two shifts at his job as an engineer at a timber processing plant near Tokoroa.
Afterwards, he drove to Mt Maunganui where he consumed alcohol at his parents’ house, he went to a restaurant where he also drank and afterwards bought 10 cans of RDT. At a friend’s apartment Dods continued to drink alcohol while mentioning that he had had no sleep.
At another friend’s BBQ he took methamphetamine and consumed more alcohol. Those who were in Dods’s company described him as “loud, excited, erratic, disrespectful and drunk”, the judge said.
He said just before 10.30pm Dods began driving through Mt Maunganui, including through a roundabout at speed, over a traffic island at a service station, changing lanes without indicating and was overtaking other vehicles. The driving was picked up on CCTV cameras along the route.
Twenty minutes after the start, Dods left the motorway, rejoining it four minutes later via an exit ramp heading north in the southbound lanes.
“You were travelling in the wrong direction and against the flow of traffic. You were in the fast lane.”
Justice Moore said the victim was driving south to his home after finishing a shift at a restaurant.
The two vehicles collided head-on, with Dods estimated to be driving at between 105-110 km/h. The force of the collision ruptured Phonphong’s thoracic aorta and he died at the scene.
Dods, who was not wearing a seatbelt, spent 10 days in Tauranga Hospital. He suffered two broken ankles, cuts to his head, a broken nose and a traumatic brain injury, although the judge noted he had not received any details about the latter.
His blood alcohol reading was twice the legal limit. Methamphetamine was detected at a level of 0.06 milligrams per litre and there were also traces of anti-depressants.
The judge said the victims’ impact statements made “harrowing reading” because Phonphong was part of a closely knit family. His widow is grieving for both herself and her daughters.
“The loss of an irreplaceable husband, father, son, brother and friend is something which will always
be there for them. The hole in their lives has had, and will continue to have, devastating emotional consequences,” the judge said.
When it came to decide on sentencing, the judge said there were several aggravating factors, including deliberate bad and aggressive driving, the consumption of drugs or alcohol and driving when deprived of sleep. The offender’s ute also did not have a warrant of fitness.
The judge also noted the defendant had twice been convicted of careless driving and had twice lost his licence for excess demerit points.
He applied a starting point of seven years for manslaughter and reduced the term by one third due to factors such as an early guilty plea. The judge accepted Dods was genuinely remorseful and had written a letter to the victim’s family.
The family had declined his request for restorative justice.
Four-year jail term after alcohol-impaired driver causes fatal crash