Law ‘not about revenge’

Adam PoulsenGeraldton Guardian
Diana Bennett has spent the past two years campaigning for tougher penalties for killer drivers.
Camera IconDiana Bennett has spent the past two years campaigning for tougher penalties for killer drivers. Credit: Adam Poulsen/Picture: Adam Poulsen, Adam Poulsen The Geraldton Guardian

A Geraldton grandmother who has campaigned for two years for tougher sentences for killer drivers says she hopes courts will maximise new laws introduced to State Parliament last week.

Diana Bennett’s 27-year-old grandson Coen Kentwell was one of three people killed when a speeding, alcohol and drug-affected driver slammed into the back of their Holden Commodore near Geraldton in 2015.

The other victims were Felicity Pallett, 23, and Michael Hook, 31.

Instead of trying to help, the driver who caused the crash, 36-year-old Amiel Tittums, fled the scene, leaving the victims to burn to death.

He was sentenced to nine years in prison, later increased to 10, with parole eligibility after eight.

Dismayed with what she considered a light sentence, Mrs Bennett began writing to politicians demanding harsher penalties for drunk and speeding motorists who caused fatal crashes.

Earlier this month her demands were met when the McGowan Government introduced legislation dubbed Charlotte’s Law to State Parliament.

Under the new law, the aggravated speed threshold will be lowered from 45km/h to 30km/h over the limit.

The law also expands the aggravated criteria to include driving while unlicensed, suspended or disqualified for charges of dangerous driving causing death or serious injury.

Existing aggravating factors also include fleeing from police, driving a stolen car and being affected by alcohol or drugs.

The maximum penalty for dangerous driving causing death is 10 years jail, doubled to 20 years if the circumstances are aggravated.

On Thursday, Mrs Bennett travelled to Perth to witness Charlotte’s Law being passed and to meet with Premier Mark McGowan, Attorney-General John Quigley and Road Safety Minister Michelle Roberts.

“I can’t speak highly enough of them,” Mrs Bennett said.

“They said they would do something about these light sentences and they followed through on their word.

“I don’t like people calling what happened to Coen, Michael and Felicity an accident — it’s a crime.

“This isn’t about revenge. I just want the sentence to fit the crime.”

Mrs Bennett said while Charlotte’s Law would not bring back her grandson or increase the sentence of his killer, it did bring her some comfort.

“Even though it’s too late for us, I’m hoping that what I’ve done is going to help someone else,” she said.

“I’ve been on this journey since we lost Coen and Michael and Felicity, and I feel I’ve done as much as I can now.”

Charlotte’s Law was named after Perth teenager Charlotte Pemberton, who was killed by an unlicensed, speeding motorcyclist in 2015.

Despite riding at more than 40km/h over the limit at the time of the crash, the man who caused her death, bikie Dylan James Adams, was not charged under circumstances of aggravation.

He was sentenced to just four years and three months jail.

Tittums was driving at up to 75km/h over the limit on Chapman Road, Glenfield, when he crashed into the car carrying Mr Kentwell, Mr Hook and Ms Pallet about 1.40am on August 17, 2016.

Later that same morning he recorded a blood alcohol level of 0.136 and tested positive to meth and the prescription drug diazepam.

But he was not charged under circumstances of aggravation.

“Under the new law he would have been liable to get 20 years. That’s the only thing that bothers me,” Mrs Bennett said.

“I just hope the judges and magistrates will follow through on this law.”

Mrs Bennett said her grandson’s death had permanently changed her.

“It changes your whole attitude to life. You worry more about your family,” she said.

An earlier version of this story stated the triple fatality occurred in 2016. This date was not correct and the story has been updated. Coen Kentwell, Felicity Pallet and Michael Hook died in 2015.

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