A High Court judge has told a mum that no sentence he could impose on her for killing her 4-year-old son while drunk driving will be as weighty as the burden of knowing she killed him.
Meri Hoana Grace was sentenced to 10 months home detention after pleading guilty to driving with excess breath alcohol causing death and injury, and driving while disqualified.
In his sentencing notes at the High Court, Judge Dobson said the "lenient sentence" for the "very serious driving offending" was aimed at giving her a chance, and he urged her to take it.
"Uppermost in my mind in assessing the matter is that whatever sentence I impose will be less weighty than the burden of knowing you caused the death of Tipene."
On March 5 this year, Grace picked up her son from school in Ruatoria at 2.30pm and went to a liquor store before starting to drink with family members.
Later that evening she decided to drive to Gisborne to visit her former abusive partner with her aunt and son.
However, near the end of the trip Grace appears to have fallen asleep at the wheel while they were travelling on SH35 near Whangara.
The car veered off the road, hitting a grassed culvert, sending it flying and flinging the three passengers out of it.
The vehicle landed on Tipene, killing him at the scene, while her aunt broke her ankle and four ribs.
Neither Grace nor her aunt who she had been drinking with had been wearing seatbelts in the front, because they had been chewed by her dog. Tipene was put in a half booster in the back seat but also without a seat belt.
The car did not have a current Wof and Grace had earlier been disqualified from driving after drink driving in October 2019.
Dobson labelled Grace's actions as "appalling risk-taking" not entirely influenced by the level of alcohol she had drunk. He also referred to her previous history of losing her sister in a car crash, being in an abusive relationship, as well as health issues.
When considering her sentence, he said he must take into account the "other horrible punishment that has been imposed on you by Tipene's death" as well as her past troubles and upbringing.
"I am satisfied that yours is a personal predicament that justifies a compassionate sentencing approach, to the extent that is possible. I consider your remorse for the death of your son and the ongoing grief, which is as difficult a punishment as any the Court could impose," he said.
Along with 10 months of home detention, she was also disqualified from driving for 12 months and ordered to undertake trauma counselling and complete a drug alcohol programme.