A ROCKHAMPTON man has been jailed for five years over a horror crash near Bundaberg that claimed the lives of his two nieces and seriously injured four other family members.
Daniel Christopher Lawrence, 31, pleaded guilty on Thursday in the Brisbane District Court to dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death and grievous bodily harm and to negligent acts causing harm.
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The court heard the crash happened during the early hours of August 14, 2011 on the Bruce Hwy near the intersection of Gentle Annie Rd, about 50km south-west of Bundaberg near Childers.
Lawrence, who was unlicensed, had earlier received a phone call from his sister, Alana Lawrence, asking him to drive to Ballina in Northern NSW to collect her and her five children so she could escape a violent relationship.
Crown prosecutor Ben Power said the family were making their way back to Rockhampton when his four-wheel-drive veered off the road on a bend and slammed into a gum tree.
He said Lawrence had either fallen asleep at the wheel or was not fully concentrating at the time of the crash.
Lawrence's nieces, Indiana, seven weeks, and Ella, 1, were killed instantly in the crash, another niece Chloe, 3, received serious head injuries and their two older siblings Breanna, 5, and Jasmine, 7, along with their mother Alana, received minor injuries.
None of the children was wearing a seatbelt.
Lawrence also pleaded guilty to armed robbery after he held up a taxi driver, 67, on November 2, 2011. The driver had picked him up with two other men from an address in Lamington St, Rockhampton.
The court heard Lawrence had been self-medicating at the time of the robbery in an attempt to deal with the crash.
Defence barrister Lars Falcongreen said Lawrence had a horrid and abusive upbringing which included his mother hitting him regularly with a cricket stump because she said he looked like his alcoholic father.
He said Lawrence has had to deal with an enormous amount of grief over the past few years on top of dealing with the emotional trauma and stress associated with the crash.
"His father passed away last year and shortly after that his long-term girlfriend hung herself," he said.
"His brother was murdered in 2007 but the alleged offender died before any trial commenced."
Mr Falcongreen said Lawrence had been diagnosed with moderate post-traumatic stress disorder since the crash.
He said Lawrence had told him that he had hit rock bottom and felt absolutely putrid about the robbery.
"He has constant nightmares since the crash and often wakes up crying in his sleep," he said.
"He is totally grief-stricken at what occurred and is extremely remorseful."
Judge Julie Dick said it was a tragic situation and she accepted Lawrence's remorse, grief and terrible guilt over what had occurred.
She said despite the full support of his sister and her wish that he not be punished any further, she had no choice but to sentence him to a custodial term.
"Three of the children were unrestrained and that is just inexplicable on a long journey when you are travelling at speed," she said.
"The sentencing process is not about vengeance, and I accept your extreme remorse, but there are other factors which I must consider when sentencing you.
"I know your sister does not want you to go to prison, but you must."
Judge Dick sentenced Lawrence to five years behind bars and ordered it be fully suspended after he had served 20 months of the sentence.
Lawrence was also disqualified from driving or obtaining a drivers licence for two years.
- APN NEWSDESK.
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