Ah Leong fined $1,000, gets suspended sentence

The 29-year-old daughter of a Cabinet Minister, Rose Hope Ah Leong, who pleaded guilty to negligent driving causing death, has been given a 12 months probation sentence and a $1,000 fine.

The decision was delivered by District Court Judge Alalatoa Rosella Viane Papali'i yesterday.

Last month, Ah Leong, was involved in a road incident where seven-year-old Loimata Vaialofa, was killed at Faleula. She pleaded guilty to one charge of negligent driving causing death.

During sentencing yesterday, Judge Alalatoa told the Court room that Ah Leong’s remorse and guilt comes through loud and clear.

“It is clear this has been weighing heavily on your mind, you are vulnerable. I know you are suffering, Rosie,” she said. “You broke the law, and you are here to answer for it.”

The Court heard that Rose Ah Leong, the daughter of the Minister of Tourism, Sala Fata Pinati, failed to see the child cross the road on her way to church. Judge Alalatoa described it as a period of “momentary inattention.”

“Had you kept your eye on the road, there is a good chance you would have seen the child… and I am sure you know that.”

In her reading of her decision, Judge Alalatoa said Ah Leong explained how her attention had been drawn to a stationary car around her.

“You were wondering what his or her actions were to be, if they were to merge into your lane or turn away. You took your eyes off the road, and thereby ignored what might happen in the vicinity of your driving,” Judge Alalatoa said.

She described Ah Leong’s case as being on the “mild” end of negligence, caused by “momentary inattention” or error of judgement, as opposed to a serious disregard for other drivers and pedestrians.

But, she said it is crucial that drivers honour their duty of care to other road users, and they should pay proper attention while driving, the judge added.

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Negligent driving charges carry a maximum sentence of up to five years imprisonment and up to $2,000 in fines.

Ah Leong was sentenced to pay $800 in Court costs, $100 in probation fees and $100 in prosecution fees, and has 12 months of probation.

“If you commit any crimes in those twelve months, you will appear again on this matter and on any other matters, and to be sure, a custodial sentence will be handed down,” the Judge warned.

She said she had considered the aggravating and mitigating factors in Ah Leong’s case, including the fact that the defendant had no prior convictions, was a person of good character and a single mother of three children.

The defendant also pleaded guilty at the first opportunity to do so.

What’s more, according to a letter to the Courts by her mother, her family has spent nearly $40,000 in supporting the victim’s family in funeral, burial costs and a ifoga (traditional apology).

“To this day, you continue to visit the family, and bring them food and money,” Judge Alalatoa said. “To try and stem the pain you have inflicted, you and your family have taken responsibility, which has been substantial by any measure.”

Ms. Loimata’s mother appeared in Court and shared how as soon as her family saw the Ah Leong family arrive to perform the ifoga, they welcomed them inside immediately.

“That is a sign of forgiveness, that despite their pain they found peace when they saw you, and accepted you and forgave you for your wrong,” said Judge Alalatoa.

The Judge said she hoped Ah Leong would talk about her suffering with her friends and family to help her find healing, as well as offered her prayers for the grieving family of the victim.

While traffic offences, especially those resulting in death must be served with appropriately strong punishment, Judge Alalatoa decided Ah Leong’s case deserved leniency.

“But other drivers must be deterred; there must be a denouncement,” she said.

Deaths on the road are increasing, and where relevant, Judge Alalatoa said harsh sentences reflect the severity in the offending.

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