IT was a "coward punch" that could have killed a young man on a night out in Newcastle West last year that led to a Penrith Panthers junior losing his contract and his job as a teacher's aid.
But the "brain snap" will not end with Immanuel Tagaloamatua spending any time in jail, with a magistrate on Friday finding the 21-year-old could serve an 18-month sentence in the community as an intensive corrections order (ICO) due to his prior good character, youth and "strong prospects of rehabilitation."
Tagaloamatua, of St Clair in Sydney's west, punched a 20-year-old man in the head after a number of "verbal exchanges" outside King Street McDonald's about 10pm on May 14 last year. The victim fell to the road, suffering fractures to his skull and jaw and bleeding on the brain and Tagaloamatua and his friend ran from the scene.
Tagaloamatua pleaded guilty to a charge of reckless grievous bodily harm in November and on Friday was spared a jail term, with Magistrate Janine Lacy finding he could be appropriately punished by serving an 18-month ICO with 200 hours of community service.
Tagaloamatua - who played Jersey Flegg for the Penrith Panthers in 2021 - and the victim had both been at a nearby hotel on the night of the assault, but had left and were outside McDonald's when they crossed paths. Tagaloamatua and his friend walked past the victim, who was sitting on the curb trying to organise a lift home, and headed towards Marketown about 9.55pm, CCTV footage shows. A minute or so later the victim stood up and followed Tagaloamatua and his friend for about 30 seconds before the men were involved in a "verbal exchange", according to an agreed statement of facts. Tagaloamatua and his friend walked away but turned around and were on the corner of King Street and Steel Street when they became involved in another "verbal exchange" with the victim.
That exchange lasted about 10 seconds before the victim took a few steps away. But when the victim approached again, Tagaloamatua stepped forward and punched him to the head, causing the victim to fall to the road and suffer serious head injuries.
"The offender struck him with a fist to the head effectively without any forewarning," Ms Lacy said. "They then ran off without any pause to check on his welfare, which could have placed his life in danger. "It was only by sheer fortune for both the victim and the offender that on that occasion an even more tragic outcome did not occur."
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