A father from northern Victorian has been jailed for six years for driving into a minibus and fatally injuring three elderly women while working as a taxi driver in 2017.
- Judge accepts driver had undiagnosed sleep apnoea
- Convicted is a driver a “special soul who feels incredible remorse”, former boss says
- Nursing home staff suffered post-traumatic stress disorder
A jury convicted Kialla man Jatinder Panesar, 39, last week of three charges of dangerous driving causing death, and two of dangerous driving causing serious injury.
The minibus — which was carrying 12 passengers from the Mercy Place Shepparton nursing home — rolled after the collision at an intersection in Ardmona last June.
Nursing home resident Valerie McCubbin, 80, died at the scene, and two other residents, Doreen Emmanuelli, 95, and Theresa Tyndall, 91, later died in hospital. Nine others were injured.
In sentencing Panesar, Judge Geoff Chettle said the effect of his actions had spread throughout the Shepparton community.
He said Panesar’s offending had been of the lower level, and he took his “good character” and references into account.
“There was no involvement of speed, drugs or alcohol; you simply failed to pay attention for 15 seconds and drove your taxi into that intersection without awareness,” Judge Chettle said.
“I accept that you suffered from undiagnosed sleep apnoea, that condition made you more likely to drive dangerously than someone without that condition.
“This case is a tragedy for all involved. The family and friends of your victims carry the effect of your crime like stones. Your family and friends must deal with you going to prison.
“I do accept that you are remorseful for your crimes and I accept that you’re unlikely to ever reoffend.”
Panesar will be eligible for parole in three years and six months.
Convicted driver a ‘noble gentleman’
The sentence followed a two-week trial in Shepparton, where the court heard Panesar was an experienced taxi driver who had spent years driving on the region’s roads, but had suffered from severe, undiagnosed sleep apnoea at the time of the crash.
At a plea hearing in Shepparton last week, victims and family members connected to the tragedy gave evidence.
The court heard a traumatised Panesar had called his sister-in-law Nancy Bilkhu in the immediate aftermath of the crash, telling her to “pray for the injured”, before hanging up.
In a cruel twist of fate, the court heard Panesar had lost his own father in a car crash in India when he was eight.
Dr Bilkhu said she was “shocked” by the accident, because of Panesar’s responsible and caring nature.
“I think he’s the most noble gentleman I’ve ever met, he’s like a brother to me,” she said.
“We have both grown up feeling the pain of losing a parent and we’ve often shared that pain. But he’s always told me the world needs more love, not hate.”
The court also heard Panesar’s mental health had deteriorated significantly after the crash, that he had dedicated his time to prayer, and had completed thousands of hours in voluntary work.
The crash also had a negative impact on his family, particularly his wife and young son.
Panesar’s former boss, director of Greater Shepparton Taxis, Richard Madgwick, called the accident “horrific”.
“Jimmy [Panesar] is a special soul who feels incredible remorse for those families,” Mr Madgwick said.
“It’s horrific, if just throws your world up, but I feel compelled to say something because this man has only good intentions with his life. He will never ever do a thing wrong again.”
Ms Marchant (right) said nursing home staff are still struggling in the aftermath of the crash. (Mahalia Dobson, ABC Goulburn Murray)
Nursing home staff suffer PTSD
The court also heard victim impact statements from Mercy Place Shepparton aged care facility manager Angela Marchant, as well as family members of the dead.
Ms Marchant said staff members involved in the crash had struggled to get back to work and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder as they supported the survivors.
“The crash continues to have an impact on the families, the staff and the bus driver — they continue to struggle,” Ms Marchant said.
“He tells me he relives the crash daily and struggles with thoughts about residents who passed and the families they left behind.”
Ms Marchant said there had been walking frames strewn about after the crash, and the injured were laying down at the scene.
She said the trauma of the crash and its aftermath had a profound impact on the community.
“I was able to start giving good news as ladies started coming home from hospital, but I also watched each day as families came and emptied their rooms,” Ms Marchant said.
“The crash was a tragedy for everybody involved, and the grief and pain from this accident is still being felt by many today, and there will be many difficult days ahead.”