IT was not dangerous driving but a tragic and unavoidable accident that caused the death of a 17-year-old girl as she walked to the school bus stop at Brandy Hill last year, a Newcastle District Court judge has found.
Ene Eneliko, 43, was blinded by the morning sun as he negotiated a left hand curve and hit the teenage girl on Warrigal Close about 7.20am on February 5.
On Monday, Judge Robert Sutherland, SC, found Mr Eneliko not guilty of dangerous driving occasioning death after a week-long judge-alone trial.
During his detailed reasons, Judge Sutherland echoed a submission made by Mr Eneliko's barrister, Peter Harper, during his closing address on Friday.
"There are situations in which catastrophes occur through a combination of circumstances," Judge Sutherland said. "This appears, to me, to be one such situation." Crown prosecutor Brendan Queenan had submitted during his closing that Mr Eneliko was effectively "driving with a blindfold on" and, despite his vision being impeded by the morning sun, did not slow down in the moments before he hit and killed the 17-year-old girl as she walked to the school bus stop. He said this made Mr Eneliko guilty of dangerous driving occasioning death. But Judge Sutherland disagreed.
"I am ultimately of the view that I cannot be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the manner of driving was dangerous," he said.
"That finding should in no way detract from the tragedy that unfolded that morning.
"However, the verdict I have reached is a verdict of not guilty and I express my condolences to [the teenage girl's] family."
Where exactly the girl was when she was struck was a crucial point during the trial, but Mr Sutherland said he was unable to determine whether she was on the bitumen road or slightly off it at the point of impact.
What Judge Sutherland was certain of was that Mr Eneliko would have been "blinded" by the sun when he rounded the left hand bend where the impact occurred.
Mr Eneliko wept after the verdict and was swarmed by a number of supporters.
Outside court, Mr Eneliko told the media the case was "heartbreaking for everybody". "None of this is going to make up... any difference about what happened," he said. "My heart is going for the family at the loss of their child." VOCAL Victim Support Unit CEO Kerrie Thompson said the trial had been "extremely difficult" for the teenage girl's family.
"Their daughter was killed by a driver who admitted he was blinded by the sun, so it's difficult to comprehend the not guilty verdict," Ms Thompson said. "The family are devastated."
Mr Eneliko still faces the back-up charge of negligent driving occasioning death.
That matter will be heard before Judge Sutherland in Newcastle District Court on Tuesday.