Judicial Failure To Punish Homicidal Drivers
"Road Rage" by Renee Viellaris The Courier-Mail 17/6/2006

Theresa Johnson dreads what will happen on July 12. That is the day her son's hit-and-run killer, a proven menace on Queensland's roads, is due to walk free after serving only six months in jail.

When Joseph William Sole, 21, illegally climbed behind the wheel of a white Mitsubishi Triton on December 30, 2004, he wasn't deterred by the risk of getting caught. In 12 months, he had racked up 12 driving offences, including speeding, unlicensed driving and driving an unregistered vehicle and received a range of fines and was banned from the road. But he treated such punishments with disdain until he ploughed into Shaine Johnson, 21, on a Gold Coast road. His car struck Shaine as he was crossing the road, catapulting him about 15m into a parked car and killing him instantly. Her son's death was the beginning of Theresa Johnson's torment.

Shaine's is one of the worst of several cases identified by a special investigation by The Courier-Mail into how repeat dangerous drivers flout the law. It has revealed millions in fines, including some on dangerous drivers, have remained unpaid for years. Months after striking Shaine, Sole crashed the vehicle he was driving and was charged with yet another batch of offences.

But the system again benefited the perpetrator, not the victim.

Sole's lawyers had the second set of charges — from March last year — heard before he faced court over Shaine's death. This meant the magistrate could not take the killing into account when dealing with those charges. He received $1000 in fines and was banned from driving for 30 months. But when he faced court in January this year over the fatality, the second set of charges could not be considered because the offences happened after Shaine's death.

If the two matters were heard together Sole could have faced a tougher sentence.

Mrs Johnson said that when she identified Shaine at the morgue

"there was nothing left of my son. He took my son's life. He should have got at least 10 years (jail). I will never forgive him. I hope for the rest of his life, on Thursday night at 10 o'clock he (Sole) remembers what he's done."

Sole, facing court over Shaine's death, pleaded guilty to failing to stop and remain at an accident, driving without due care and attention, and disqualified driving. A Coolangatta magistrate handed down the maximum sentence applicable: two years' jail, suspended after six months.

Despite 329 people dying on Queensland roads last year — the worst toll in seven years — The Courier Mail found numerous examples where dangerous drivers continue to receive light penalties.

Colin Bell, 21, of Wondai near Kingaroy, was charged with five charges of driving while disqualified in the three months from March, but his punishment was only community service, fines and an extended period of disqualification. However, Bell claims he is now a 'changed man' because a magistrate last week threatened to send him to jail if he reoffended.

It comes as new information reveals dangerous drivers are refusing to pay their fines forcing the Government to consider "writing off" potentially millions of dollars owed in penalties.

About $331 million is owed to the State Penalties Enforcement Register (SPER), a State Government agency that collects a range of overdue fines for numerous agencies. Up to $81 million is almost 10 years old. Former auditor-general Len Scanlan, who identified "areas for ongoing improvement" for the register, revealed there was about $135 million in outstanding speed camera, red light, traffic infringement and court fines as at June 30, 2003.

A spokesman for Attorney-General Linda Lavarch said the latest figures could not be broken down and defended the register, saying it was highly-efficient.

"SPER is currently responsible for collecting fines from about 570,000 people. These people are responsible for 1.64 million fines."

The register's problems identified by Mr Scanlan included locating debtors in Queensland and a lack of power to force fine defaulters to pay when they move interstate.