Teacher escapes jail in road death case

By Matai'a Lanuola Tusani T - Ah Tong 11 July 2024, 2:00PM

A teacher found guilty of negligently driving his vehicle and causing the death of a 78-year-old elderly man was handed a probationary term by the Supreme Court.

Siomia Junior Savaiinaea, an automatic engineering teacher at the Punaoa Technical College was convicted by the court for the death of Siaosi Levaa at Vaimea on 21 June 2021. 

He was represented by lawyer Leiataualesa Komisi Koria and the prosecutor was Leinafo Taimalelagi Strickland. 

Chief Justice Satiu Simativa Perese handed down the non-custodial sentence in late June after the defendant was found liable for the negligent driving causing death charge. 

The defendant was driving along Vaimea Road towards St. Joseph’s College when his car struck the victim. 

The court heard the victim was struck at the mid-point of the front bumper of the defendant’s car which he stopped some metres away.

The 78-year-old victim sustained critical injuries and died on the way to the hospital.  

Chief Justice Perese noted evidence from the deceased’s brother who spoke about the ifoga and the defendant giving a total of $21,100 towards the deceased’s funeral. 

“The essence of Momoemausu’s speech was to let the court know that the family had forgiven the defendant, and they did not want to see him be imprisoned,” he said. 

The submission from the defence characterised the accident as a “momentary lapse of attention” was accepted by the Court.

However, during the defendant’s evidence, Chief Justice Perese said he “attempted to argue he did not hit the victim but that the victim ran in front of his car that he says was being driven on the road”. 

“I found the defendant’s evidence unreliable,” he added. 

“The evidence of independent good Samaritans who took the victim to hospital was critical in terms of where they found the victim lying on the road.  

“The Police also led evidence from a young girl with whom I am satisfied saw the way the accident unfolded from a short distance away.   

“The evidence is beyond reasonable doubt. The defendant’s car left the road, and hit the victim who was at the time walking along the grass pathway next to the road.”

The Chief Justice pointed out to the defence that the victim ran into or in front of the car while the car was on the road is unsustainable, and rejected.  

“Any personal remorse outside of the ifoga that is sought to be advanced comes much too late to be genuine.” 

In considering the sentence for Savaiinaea, the court took 24 months as the starting point. Time was deducted for the defendant’s prior good character, and eight months were taken away for the ifoga leaving 10 months to be served. 

But the Chief Justice said he will give the defendant a non-custodial sentence given he was impressed by the submissions made on behalf of the deceased’s family. 

“The sentencing process has as one of its essential features the purpose of holding the defendant accountable for the harm done to the victim and the community,” he said. 

“Momoemausu’s speech satisfied me that the defendant has on a cultural level been held accountable for the harm done to the victim and the victim’s community.  

“Other features of sentencing include the principles of promoting in the defendant a sense of responsibility for and an acknowledgement of harm; providing for the interests of the victim; denouncing the conduct in which the defendant was involved; deterring the defendant or other persons from committing the same or a similar offence; protecting the community and to assist in the defendant’s rehabilitation and reintegration.”

The Chief Justice noted these purposes may be satisfied by a community based sentence. 

“The death in this case was caused by the defendant’s negligent driving because the defendant ran off the road,” he stated. 

“But it was due to a momentary lapse and perhaps the difficulty of seeing the victim walking along the side of the road, which I referred to earlier.  

“It was not the result of speeding, the consumption of alcohol or other intoxicating substances such as drugs or kava, and home brew.

“There was no evidence suggesting other actions that contributed to the eventual crash.  He simply, momentarily, nodded off, and lost control of his car.”

The Chief Justice later convicted and sentenced Savaiinaea to probation for two years and to carry out 200 hours of community work. 


By Matai'a Lanuola Tusani T - Ah Tong 11 July 2024, 2:00PM
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