Terence Tanti guilty of involuntary homicide after horrific New Year's Eve car crash

Terence Tanti has been found guilty of the involuntary homicide of law student Matthew Meilak and driving while under the influence of alcohol, in connection with a fatal car crash in Gozo in 2015

Terence Tanti has been found guilty of the involuntary homicide of law student Matthew Meilak and driving while under the influence of alcohol, in connection with a fatal car crash in Gozo in 2015.

The accident, in which the 22-year-old law student lost his life, happened at around 3:45am on 1 January 2015 in Rabat Road in Nadur, Gozo, as Meilak and four of his friends were on their way back from a private New Year’s Eve party held at a Nadur farmhouse.

Meilak suffered severe head injuries after being ejected from the car on impact. Sources claim that he was found approximately 12 metres from the crash. Another passenger was seriously injured.

In a judgment handed down this morning, magistrate Audrey Demicoli said that the evidence showed that the vehicle being driven by the accused had lost grip on the wet road surface and careened into a wall, then an electricity pole and then into the wall again, coming to rest in the middle of the road. This was due to the excessive velocity with which the car was being driven, the bad state of the tyres as well as the intoxication of the driver who had consumed copious amounts of alcohol and possibly also some illicit substances.

The defence had insisted that the accused had lost control of the car due to a failure in the steering balljoint on the right-hand side, after going over a flooded pothole. It denied that Tanti had been driving too fast and pointed out that he had recounted in detail the manoeuvres he had performed to try and recover the car from the skid. The alcohol he had consumed had had no effect on his driving, argued his lawyer Joe Giglio.

The court said it agreed with the defence’s complaints about serious shortcomings in the chain of custody of blood samples taken from the accused, saying that this meant that it could not rely on the expert’s finding of illicit drugs. However, it said that it could rely on the findings as an “indication of the blood alcohol level” of the accused, as the chain of custody before this particular test was proven by the prosecution.

This also because the accused’s statement corroborated the tests and left no doubt in the magistrate’s mind that alcohol had affected the accused’s function and capacity to drive safely.

Although court experts could not establish the speed at which the car was travelling, due to uncertainty as to whether the road surface was wet or not, the magistrate said that the minimum speed of 50km/hr was still excessive at taking the difficult bend on a slippery road. It ruled that the fact that Meilak was ejected from the car and flung against an electricity pole with such force that he broke his skull was indication enough with regards to the speed of the car.

The fact that the car’s tyres were in a very bad state and should have been changed in 2012 had contributed greatly to the incident, said the court. In fact, a court-appointed expert had found that the tyres were not roadworthy.

“In the case at hand, this court finds that there was unskillfulness, negligence and failure to observe traffic regulations on the part of the accused” when he got behind the wheel of the vehicle, it said. Tanti had been driving too fast to control his car in a dangerous bend on a slippery surface, ruled the court.

For the purposes of punishment, the court said it considered the “tragic and fatal consequences which occurred due to the fault of the accused.” However, it also took into account the positioning of the electricity pole, which was in the middle of the road, on a bend and not behind a wall and had no form of protection for parties who crashed into it.

This had contributed greatly to the tragic death of Matthew Meilak. Another factor which contributed to the fatality was the fact that the passengers on the back seat were not wearing a seatbelt. The court observed that the passengers in the car had all been with the driver at the party and were aware of the fact that he had consumed alcohol, together with them. They could have chosen not to get in the car with him, pointed out the court, saying that these factors were all to be taken into account when calibrating punishment.

Tanti was handed a two-year prison sentence, suspended for four years and ordered to pay €2,724 in costs.

Inspectors Frank Anthony Tabone and Bernard Charles Spiteri prosecuted.

More in Court & Police