In an extraordinary gesture of forgiveness and humanity, Peter Frazer, whose daughter Sarah was killed as she waited for her broken-down car to be towed off the Hume Highway two years ago, hugged the truck driver responsible for her death before he was taken away to jail.
Both Mr Frazer and Kaine Daniel Barnett wept as others in the Parramatta District Court room — family and friends of the victims and of Barnett — also wiped away tears.
Later, Mr Frazer was asked what he was thinking at the time. In a voice wavering with emotion, he said: “Kaine could have been my son. Any of this can happen to any of our families. We don’t hate him. We just feel so sorry that he has to go through this for the rest of his life.”
Mr Frazer also pleaded for drivers to pay attention. “We hope that the only positive thing that comes out of this is that it becomes a clear signal to the community that we can’t have people driving while distracted.”
Barnett, a professional truck driver then aged 24, was travelling on the Hume Highway near Mittagong in the middle of the day on February 15, 2012.
Sarah Frazer’s car had broken down as she drove from her Springwood home to Wagga Wagga to start a university degree. Tow-truck driver Geoff Clark had been called to help and pulled his truck in behind her, partly in the road’s narrow breakdown lane and partly in lane one.
He activated hazard lights and a large illuminated arrow on the back of the truck.
It was a clear, fine day. There were no issues with visibility. There was no alcohol or drugs involved. But, for some reason, Barnett failed to notice the pair beside the road until it was too late.
He swerved at the last second to avoid them but failed. Sarah, 23, and Mr Clark, a 40-year-old father of four, were killed instantly.
Judge Stephen Hanley said it had been a “truly tragic” case.
“No one involved has been spared from the enormous impact. The lives of all affected will never be the same again.”
He referred to the “deeply moving” victim impact statements read to the court the previous week, outlining the pain the Frazer and Clark families had suffered and continue to suffer. On behalf of the community, he acknowledged “the pain and loss felt”.
He also referred to a psychologist’s report on Barnett, which said he felt devastated and enormously remorseful about the deaths.
He had developed a range of symptoms since the crash, including flashbacks, headaches and reading difficulties. He had been drinking heavily and had become socially withdrawn.
“I accept he is deeply traumatised,” the judge said. “He will carry the burden of his guilt as a sentence that will most likely remain with him for his entire life.”
Judge Hanley said Barnett had no criminal history and he did not like having to send him to jail, but he had to impose a sentence that would act as a deterrent to others.
He sentenced the 26-year-old to three years’ jail, with a minimum 18-month term.
As Barnett wept and was comforted by family and his fiance, Kayla, Mr Frazer walked across the court with his wife, Judy, and embraced the young man.
Outside, Mr Frazer said the family “didn’t want Kaine in jail...We just hope he goes on after this to live a very good life.”
Samantha Clark issued a short statement, describing Geoff as a “loving and devoted husband and father. The care and well-being of his family was always paramount. Now I have to do this alone with the unwavering support of family and friends, for which I’m forever grateful.”