Phobia lets death driver avoid jail

By Andrew Koubaridis

A drunk driver who killed a woman has been spared prison after a judge said her agoraphobia would cause her "difficulties" if she was locked up.

Unemployed Papakura resident Lesley Caudwell told police she had been "trolleying it today" and drinking "lots of wine" after the November 16 crash that killed 36-year-old Tara Groenestein.

But at her sentencing yesterday, Judge Andree Wiltens said the 42-year-old's condition - which included frequent panic attacks and bipolar disorder - would place her in "difficulty" if she were confined to a cell.

Caudwell had earlier pleaded guilty to driving while incapable and causing death, and dangerous driving causing death.

Judge Wiltens also took into account her early guilty plea and the fact she was caring for her cancer-stricken mother.

Once all factors were considered, home detention was the "only option".

He sentenced her to 12 months of home detention and disqualified her from driving for four years.

Crown prosecutors had sought a four-year jail term.

Caudwell was almost three times over the legal breath-alcohol limit and travelling at 100km/h when she ploughed into Ms Groenestein's car at the Patumahoe Rd/Waiuku Rd intersection near Pukekohe.

Ms Groenestein died at the scene.

Police found an empty wine bottle in the front passenger footwell of Caudwell's car. She told officers she was the driver but didn't know where she was going.

Police said other motorists had raised the alarm about Caudwell's driving minutes before the crash, after she was seen crossing the centre line.

The sentence left many of Ms Groenestein's family in tears, and cries of "murderer" and "where's the justice" rang out at the sentencing.

"I'm absolutely disgusted ... How can you take a life and get just 12 months' home detention," father Felix Groenestein said.

Tara's mother, Jill Groenestein, told the Herald she wanted every parent in New Zealand to know how the family were feeling.

"I'd put every parent on notice - I never thought this could ever happen to us. How do we get these people off the roads and show zero tolerance when this happens?"

Judge Wiltens said the victim impact statements made harrowing reading and left him in tears.

But this was no comfort to the family, who say they feel cheated by New Zealand's justice system.

"If we were in Australia or America she would have got five years or 20 years," said sister Rachel Groenestein. "Sometimes I think these judges need to feel pain. It's a joke, some of these laws."

* Agoraphobia

A fear of open spaces, going outside or being away from a place of safety. Also an abnormal fear of being helpless in an embarrassing or inescapable situation.

Sources: Cambridge Dictionary / Merriam Webster online.

- NZ Herald

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