An 82-year-old man from south Canterbury, who asked his son to take the rap for a serious accident he was not involved in, has been sentenced to house arrest.
Maungati farmer Ian Bruce McDonald was told the lies he had told as he tried to pervert the course of justice were ‘unexplainable’ when he appeared in Timaru District Court on Friday.
“Not only did you lie, but you invited your son into this lie,” Judge Joanna Maze said as she McDonald, charged with perverting the course of justice and reckless operation of a motor vehicle causing injuries.
McDonald convinced his son, Mark Burton McDonald, to say he was driving the Toyota Hilux which crashed on Back Line Rd at 11pm on February 24, seriously injuring the 72-year-old front passenger.
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Ian McDonald had been drinking booze, whiskeys and two beers with friends in the Waimate area before crashing on the shingle rural road on a moderate bend, crossing a grassy area before hitting a large tree.
“The defendant immediately called his son to the scene, who arrived before the helpers”, indicates the summary of the facts.
‘As the accused had been drinking alcohol and did not want to jeopardize the impending renewal of his driving licence, he asked Mark to identify himself to the police as the driver; and Mark agreed to do it.
“The defendant moved the vehicle in which Mark had arrived out of sight and onto a grassy hillside, so that it would not be seen by arriving emergency services.”
When the police arrived, Mark McDonald provided a statement that he was the driver and responsible for the accident and signed the statement.
Ian McDonald also spoke to police and confirmed his son was the driver at the time of the crash.
“The accused first told the police he was the front passenger and then said he was the left rear passenger.
“Police observations of the accused at the scene were that he appeared to be intoxicated. The officer who spoke to him smelled of alcohol on his breath. He gave slow and delayed responses when he was spoken to and at one point appeared to rock on his feet and leaned against a nearby fence post.
“The defendant was not subject to breathalyzer procedures because the police did not realize at the time that he was the driver.”
Judge Maze said that due to the circumstances they will never know what the defendant’s blood alcohol level was.
“It cannot be quantified, because of your lies no breathalyzer test took place,” Judge Maze said.
The summary says a third party was then called to the scene by Mark McDonald to drive home, “and to perpetuate the story that Mark had been the driver of the accident vehicle.”
“When police personnel left, Mark retrieved his vehicle from where it had been hidden and drove the defendant and his other associate home. The third party called to the scene did not bring anyone home.
Meanwhile, the victim reported severe neck and back pain at the scene and was taken to Timaru Hospital for further evaluation. It was later revealed that he suffered two fractures to his spinal vertebrae which required hospitalization and surgery.
Crown prosecutor Anne-Marie McRae said the crash victim did not wish to make an impact statement but was recovering well and clearly supported the accused by providing a character reference .
It was also said that the victim did not reveal the lie in his statement to the police.
“He didn’t say he (Mark McDonald) didn’t drive,” Macrae said, later accepting Judge Maze’s question “so that was an omission rather than a misrepresentation?”
Judge Maze said that as the defendant was 82, there was a high level of respect and expectation in the community and what he had done to retain his license was “unexplainable”.
“Your determination to keep driving was at the forefront of your mind.”
Judge Maze told the defendant the case was “a serious matter” and that the harm caused was significant to the victim and significant to his own son.
“Your son wanted to go to the police the next day, but you compromised him again until your license was renewed.
“It was six weeks later (April 4) when you went to the police to admit what had happened…it was after renewing your licence.”
Judge Maze agreed with the Crown’s submissions that the starting point for the sentence was nine months in prison with an increase of one month for high level of neglect, alcohol being an aggravating factor. Judge Maze also agreed with the Crown to discount 25% for an early guilty plea, plus 10% for remorse and good character and a further 10% for age and ill health, leaving five months which were commuted to 10 weeks house arrest.
He was also banned from driving for six months and a $3,000 repair was ordered in St John. Judge Maze said she assumed the cost of the accident also included the permanent loss of the vehicle which had been written off.
Mark McDonald was originally charged with reckless driving causing bodily harm on March 24, but that was withdrawn and he pleaded guilty to perverting the course of justice in Timaru District Court on May 24. He will be sentenced on June 22.