Driver's 'error of judgment'

A MAN suffered life-threatening injuries after falling off the back of a utility his friend was driving, a court was told.

Haron Tuliao Sarmiento, 19, faced Bundaberg District Court yesterday and pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing grievous bodily harm, over an incident in May last year that hospitalised friend Matt Stoker.

On May 9, 2008, Sarmiento and three other friends went hunting for a mobile phone one of them had dropped along a Moore Park Beach road.

The court was told Sarmiento told Mr Stoker to stop standing on the tray before he started to drive, but Mr Stoker refused.

Sarmiento got behind the wheel anyway and, as they drove along the badly-lit dirt road, his friend tumbled to the ground.

Mr Stoker was rushed by his friends to Bundaberg Hospital.

His life-threatening injuries included a build-up of blood on a section of his brain, bruising to his brain and lacerations.

Crown prosecutor Mark Brennan told the court that Sarmiento had an extra duty of care as a driver.

“The duty he had as a driver of a vehicle was with a person who was intoxicated standing in a ute at night,” he said.

But Judge Anthony Rafter said Mr Stoker's blood alcohol level was 0.04% when he was tested at the hospital.

“It would be different if he was incapable of standing up,” he said.

A victim impact statement by the victim's mother, Karen Stoker, outlined the emotional and financial rollercoaster the family had been on during his ongoing recovery.

The court was told Mr Stoker's short-term memory loss had made it impossible for him to work.

Defence counsel Laura Reece said Sarmiento had been accepted into the Australian Defence Force as a combat engineer and if a conviction was recorded his future career prospects could be threatened.

Judge Rafter said it was a serious offence and Sarmiento had made a “gross error of judgment”.

He sentenced Sarmiento to 18 months' probation and disqualified his licence for six months.

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