Driver's prison sentence suspended on appeal

The man who hit and permanently injured a young dancer in 2005 had his prison sentence suspended on appeal

The man behind the wheel of an out-of-control car which hit and permanently injured a young dancer has had his prison sentence suspended on appeal.

Massimo Abela, 46, from Mqabba, was driving his newly purchased Mitsubishi Lancer along the Coast Road towards Buġibba shortly after midnight one morning in September 2005, when he lost control of the vehicle crashing into two vehicles approaching in the opposite direction.

The driver of one of cars, a Mercedes Benz, told the court how he had seen the turbo-charged Mitsubishi skid out of control after brushing against the pavement while negotiating a bend.

The car crossed over to the opposite lane, crashing into an Opel Corsa which disappeared from view and finally collided sideways with the Mercedes which had braked suddenly.

The Opel Corsa ended up on the rocky beach, one storey below street level, its engine landing some 12 metres away.

Abela claimed to have been driving at 50-60km/hr and that the road surface had been wet, but Magistrate Marse-Ann Farrugia, observed that forensic evidence showed that the road conditions at the time of the accident were dry and that he could not have been driving at 50-60km/hr as the impact was too great. 

On the basis of all evidence produced, the court was convinced that the accused's reckless and dangerous driving had caused the massive crash.

The driver of the Opel had suffered multiple fractures which left him with a permanent disability, thereby ruining his aspirations of becoming a dancer and hairdresser.

Magistrate Farrugia had handed Abela a one-year prison sentence, from which Abela had filed an appeal.

In his appeal, he argued that the cause of the incident was never conclusively established, as an one eyewitness had said that the Opel had been in the wrong lane. The conviction was not safe and satisfactory, argued his lawyers Franco Debono and Marion Camilleri as not even the speed at which the car was being driven had been established.

Abela also submitted that the punishment was excessive and would cost him his job. Nobody had been killed in the accident he said, saying the punishment was “disproportionate and exaggerated.” In addition, the accident had occurred 12 years before and this wait ought to be taken into account, he said.

The evidence all pointed to the appellant having lost control and drifted into the opposing lane, said the court. The appellant’s contention was that the loss of control was due to the road conditions and vehicle’s new tyres, but the court noted otherwise, saying it was not proven even to the level of probability, with the inquiring experts contending that the road was dry on the day of the accident and the car’s tyres having been in good condition.

He had failed to prove that the loss of control was not caused by his negligence or dangerous driving.

However on the punishment front, the court noted that the victim had been compensated and had recovered almost full function.

“The court cannot ignore the passage of time from when this incident occurred in September 2005…the appellant has today matured in his behaviour and recognised his error. Therefore this court is of the opinion that although the amount of punishment should not be changed, the imprisonment should be suspended.”

His sentence was changed to one year imprisonment suspended for two years.

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