Bootlegger jailed after teen's death

By Westport News staff

File photo / NZ Herald
File photo / NZ Herald

A Westport man who sold whiskey to a Buller High School student prior to the teenager's death has been sentenced to two months in prison.

Andrew Perkins, 50, pleaded guilty in June to two charges of being an unlicensed person selling liquor and was sentenced in Westport District Court yesterday.

At 3am on October 7 last year three 16-year-olds went to Perkins' Westport house to purchase alcohol. They hadn't been drinking prior to that, Judge Alistair Garland told the court.

Perkins gave the youths a choice of bourbon or whiskey. They bought whiskey from him for $20 and consumed it before walking home intoxicated.

As 16-year-old Thomas Elworthy walked towards Carters Beach on SH67 he strayed into the path of an oncoming car and was struck and killed. His blood alcohol level was later found to be 133mg per 100ml.

On December 21 last year police undertook a controlled purchase operation where an 18-year-old volunteer bought a bottle of whiskey from Perkins.

He was allowed to pay $20 for the $22 bottle as he only had two $20 notes. Mr Perkins told him to return the bottle and cap and that the next one would cost $24.

On December 22 police executed a search warrant at Perkins' house and seized alcohol and equipment used to make it.

At the time Perkins had no clear explanation for why he had so much alcohol on the premises, other than saying he drank a lot of it. He refused to answer questions about selling the alcohol to the youths.

His lawyer, Eymard Bradley, showed Judge Garland information from ACC, which showed Perkins had suffered extensive head injuries on three occasions.

Mr Bradley added that a marked change in personality had resulted from the accidents. Perkins had begun brewing alcohol for his own purposes then begun to sell the surplus.

Mr Bradley asked for a non-custodial sentence.

Judge Garland said a pre-sentence report showed Perkins had accepted responsibility for both charges. He'd sold the alcohol to the youths because he believed them when they said they were of age.

Perkins claimed to be remorseful for the death, but he said he hadn't killed the youth; the youth had done it to himself by consuming the alcohol.

The report said Perkins didn't want to pay reparation for the alcohol analysis. He'd also declined home or community detention. He was unable to do community work as a result of an accident in 1984.

The report described Perkins' risk of re-offending as high and recommended a short term of imprisonment.

Judge Garland said all of Perkins' major convictions were influenced by alcohol and this one was no different.

The purpose of the sentencing was to hold Perkins responsible for the harm he had done.

Perkins responded: "Put me in jail now, I can't listen to this."

Judge Garland said the situation was serious, Perkins had sold alcohol to three 16-year-olds and it wasn't just any alcohol but 41 per cent by volume.

The three youths became intoxicated and one wandered into the path of a car and died.

While Perkins couldn't be held directly responsible for that death, it was fair to say his conduct in selling the alcohol to the teens was a contributing factor.

At best Perkins' actions had been grossly negligent, the judge said.

In mitigation there were a number of reports in relation to medical conditions resulting from three brain injuries Perkins had suffered.

The starting point for a sentence would be three months' imprisonment, Judge Garland said. He reduced that by one month on account of Perkins' guilty plea and medical difficulties.

He sentenced Perkins to two months' imprisonment, to be served concurrently, on each charge.

Given his mental health difficulties Perkins could apply for home detention if a suitable residence could be found.

He was also ordered to pay $180 reparation to police for analyst's fees.

Perkins left saying he was being imprisoned for "not being allowed a job in this banana republic".

- APNZ

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