A Waterloo man who was drunk when he crashed a motorcycle, killing his 10-year-old pillion passenger will spend two weeks surrounded by his family and friends before he is likely to serve jail time over the incident.
It took two hours and 40 minutes for a jury to find Paul Ramon Gelmi, 47, not guilty of manslaughter and instead guilty of a lesser charge of dangerous driving causing the death of Bunbury girl Haylee Michelle Ross.
The verdict was handed down in Bunbury’s Supreme Court today, following a five-day trial over the October 2016 fatal crash.
Despite the verdict, Gelmi was released on bail before sentencing is handed down later this month.
Defence barrister Linda Black told the court, bail was requested on the basis there was no misunderstanding that the usual sentence was an immediate jail term and that he was being cared for on his farm by his family and friends on a “round robin” roster.
State prosecutor Brett Tooker did not oppose bail.
While Haylee’s family were silently present throughout the trial, Haylee’s uncle today issued a statement on behalf of the grieving family after the verdict was handed down.
Jake Turanga described Haylee as the “best thing” and said he hoped her story would send a message about the risks of drink driving.
“You can’t describe how good she was, she’s just the best,” Mr Turanga said.
“Just hope that this sort of sends a message out to everyone else that drink driving – not OK – and the importance of our children and their safety.
“Thanks to everybody out there today that tried to help Haylee, it means a lot to our family, we’re forever in debt.
“Mr Tooker and the team, thank you for the case you put forward.”
Gelmi admitted to being involved in an incident occasioning the death of Haylee, that he was the driver of the motorbike, that Haylee was a pillion passenger and that he had a blood alcohol level of 0.136.
But argued he always had control of the motorbike before the fatal crash, despite his intoxication.
On the afternoon of the fatal crash, Gelmi had taken Haylee to look for her father and sister who were riding other motorcycles on his farm.
Gelmi had spent the day drinking beers with friends, including Haylee’s father.
Haylee was not wearing a helmet when she sustained a “catastrophic” blow to the head after Gelmi failed to navigate a “sweeping” left bend on Clifton Road and crashed in a gully.
Mr Tooker tried to argue that a series of bad decisions by Gelmi led to Haylee’s death and he unlawfully killed her because it was not an accident and he was criminally negligent.
“People make poor decisions when they’ve been drinking – especially when you’ve had as much as he did,” Mr Tooker said in his closing address.
“This is not an accident ... Haylee’s death was reasonably foreseeable.
“(Gelmi) did breach the duty he owed to Haylee – a breach so serious that it is warranting of criminal sanction.”
In her closing, Ms Black argued that a “very straight” tyre track on the verge where the crash occurred showed Gelmi had kept the motorbike upright and in a straight line.
“It is not the path of an out-of-control, drunken person,” she said.
After an emotional public gallery was again warned by Justice Lindy Jenkins to keep reactions silent so the jury was not intimidated or distressed, the not guilty verdict triggered gasps from the gallery and left family members in tears.
Gelmi and his lawyers refused to make any comment outside of court.