An Australian driver who killed a British girl in a car crash – leaving her to die in a pool of blood then went on the run for 14yrs has been taken pity on by a judge as he finally faced justice.
Marine biologist Arabella Stuart, from Essex, was 26 and on her way to the Great Barrier Reef when she died on the Pacific Highway in Karuah in New South Wales on January 13 2001.
The Toyota Supra driven by Michael Collins, now 39 – who was sleep deprived and had smoked marijuana – crossed to the wrong side and smashed head-on into her camper van when he fell asleep at the wheel.
Three others were seriously injured, including the back-seat passenger of Collins’ car, who had to have his left arm amputated below the shoulder.
Instead of facing justice at the time, Collins discharged himself from hospital and fled to Turkey – under the name of Metin Yuceturk – where he started a new life; got married, had children and started a business.
Collins slipped back into Australia undetected in around 2012 – but for almost four years failed to hand himself into authorities as he worked as a labourer.
He was finally captured by chance last October when police discovered the outstanding warrants when he was held for ‘acting suspiciously’.
In June this year he pleaded guilty to dangerous driving occasioning death – and three counts of dangerous driving occasioning grievous bodily harm – and he was released on bail.
Other serious driving charges were set to be taken into account when he was finally sentenced in the early hours of this morning.
Despite the seriousness of the case in question yesterday Collins flicked the finger at waiting reporters outside the court when he was finally to face justice – to the dismay of Arabella’s family who had flown in to Australia for the hearing.
Then they were further shocked when the judge appeared to take pity on him.
Judge Leonie Flannery said Collins was sorry for what had happened – allowing him a 25% discount on his sentence for the utilitarian value of his guilty plea.
Ms Flannery said: I do accept that he is remorseful and is taking responsibility for his behaviour, albeit belatedly.”
She also found Collins was unlikely to re-offend – and said he would need help with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression when he is released.
She she handed him a 30-month jail term in Newcastle District Court – meaning he will be eligible for parole in 18 months.
The day before there had been emotional scenes during sentencing proceedings at Newcastle District Court – as Arabella’s surviving sister and father who had flown to Australia to give evidence explained how devastating her death had been.
“It’s impossible to encapsulate the effect of my daughter’s death,” Arabella’s father John Stuart told the court.
Her sister Kate Stuart said: “The cavalier behaviour of the driver was too painful to deal with.
“The hardest thing is why the driver never contacted our family and instead, ran away to escape overseas, which made an unbearable situation harder.”
Bianca Reddin – who was travelling behind Arabella’s van when the crash happened – told the court of the deep pain she felt as she held her hand as her life slipped away.
She said: “I can’t describe the significance to be with a person and comfort them in their last moments.
“It is something that I carry everyday.”
Collins wept in court as Ms Reddin explained that the crash had taken a heavy toll on her life – and she remains deeply traumatised by what she experienced.
She added: “The smell of petrol, blood and heat in the air never leaves me in the summer time.”
Arabella’s mother died from cancer several years ago – her condition her family claim made worse by losing her youngest daughter.
Ms. Stuart, 44, from Surrey, told Mirror Online today that she and her 72-year-old father John, a retired English teacher, are extremely disappointed “at the very lenient sentence of 18 months” alongside all of the other very serious injuries he caused in the crash to the three other people involved.
Kate said: “Collins had been driving illegally as a disqualified driver and he was also very sleep deprived having not slept at all the night before – and had cannabis in his system.
“We were warned not to focus on the length of his sentence and the journey for myself and my father to Australia was more about some much needed closure…
“…an opportunity to stand in the same room as Collins and let him who the person actually was he had so carelessly killed and also how much the last 15 years of him not serving any time in prison at all, had deeply hurt our family alongside the actual loss of her life.”
The pair said Collins’ arrest out of the blue had come as a shock.
The memories that have arisen since had been “tough” they added – as well as the journey to Australia to face the court to see justice – but they appreciated the experience of finally visiting the crash site.
Music publicist Ms Stuart said: “The journey to Australia has been very tough for (my father) physically and emotionally.
“We had never made the journey over to the crash site in those early years as we kept hoping he would be caught meaning we would be going over anyway.
“Then my mother got sick with breast cancer and was ill for several years before dying.
“I personally think she died due to the stress and pain of losing her youngest daughter – but we weren’t allowed to mention this in court.
“Although no prison sentence will ever bring Arabella back and so we are trying not focus on the length of the sentence.
“I think it sends a irresponsible message out to the community in Australia – that if someone commits a serious crime and manages to run away from it then they may received a diminished sentence at a later date should they happen to get caught.”
News Source MirrorNews