Simone Rutley
Simone Rutley Alina Rylko

How terrible mistake led to mum's death

AFTER an afternoon drinking session at the Nimbin Hotel during which he'd consumed four to five XXXX beers and smoked at least one joint, Jason Warne made a fateful decision.

The 42-year-old decided to embark on a planned 70km drive to his home in Empire Vale - departing the pub on Cullen St just minutes after having "lit one up".

But Warne had driven less than 1km when he drifted across double lines on a left hand bend, in a 50km/h zone just south of Nimbin.

At that moment his Toyota Landcruiser ploughed head on into the van of Lillian Rock woman Simone Rutley.

Trapped by compression for more than an hour as police, paramedics, and locals converged on the scene, Ms Rutley's injuries were critical.

The 49-year-old was airlifted to Gold Coast University but later succumbed to her wounds.

Mr Warne's injuries were comparatively minor. His speech was slurred, his eyelids partially closed, and he appeared dreamy and relaxed, needing help to stand.

"I can't remember a thing," he said when asked what happened. Blood alcohol readings would later find he was at least three times over the legal limit, and had cannabis in his system.

He now faces the weight of a lengthy first-time jail sentence after a District Court judge sentenced him on Friday to at least three years in jail for dangerous driving occasioning death.

Wearing a dark grey suit, Mr Warne watched the proceedings impassively from the dock as the court moved towards its inevitable conclusion in which there were no winners.

Families of both Ms Rutley and Mr Warne watched on, sitting on opposite sides of the public gallery.

Mr Warne was aware of the "awful damage that this has caused, not just him, but the people who are unfortunately left behind as a result of the death of the deceased", his barrister told the court.

The court heard Warne had exhibited "genuine contrition" and it was "highly unlikely" he would "ever find himself in a criminal dock ever again".

Reports showed he had ceased his use of any illicit substance, including cannabis, since the offence. He had also suffered from depression and anxiety as a result, and there was some evidence of "suicidal ideation".

However, he had conceded full responsibility for his actions, and was very willing to meet Ms Rutley's family in a restorative justice mediation process, the court heard.

The Crown prosecutor said Warne's level of moral culpability had to be considered high, even though his one-off behaviour was "out of character".

"From Ms Rutley's position she was innocently making her away home, a mother, a spouse, a daughter, a sibling is senselessly lost," he said of the tragic crash.

In sentencing Warne, Judge Deborah Sweeney referred to a psychologist report which described Warne as "truly a good man who unfortunately made a terrible and tragic mistake".

But she agreed that his moral culpability had to be considered high.

Judge Sweeney sentenced Warne to a total term of five years' jail, with parole granted after three years.

He will be eligible for parole on February 1, 2021, and his licence will be disqualified for three years after his release.

Outside court, Ms Rutley's daughter Tessa spoke briefly, saying she was "devastated that his family is broken now too".

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