Driver avoids jail over fatal crash after trailer came loose from 'makeshift road train'

Driver avoids jail over fatal crash after trailer came loose from 'makeshift road train'

Driver avoids jail over fatal crash after trailer came loose from 'makeshift road train'

Updated 9 February 2018, 23:50 AEDT

A Perth man walks free after a crash where his overweight trailer — being towed by a caravan that he was in turn towing with his ute — came free and ploughed into an oncoming truck, claiming the life of its driver.

A Perth man who was behind the wheel of a makeshift "three-vehicle road train" has avoided being sent to jail for causing a crash that claimed the life of a 55-year-old truck driver.

In September 2016, Dwayne Ten Vaanholt was driving a ute and towing a caravan that was in turn towing an overweight trailer, which dislodged and ploughed into an oncoming truck on Brookton Highway in Kelmscott.

The truck's driver Stephen Illing suffered multiple injuries and died in hospital.

Ten Vaanholt pleaded guilty to a charge of dangerous driving occasioning death, with the District Court told he had modified the bumper of the caravan so it could tow the trailer after watching a YouTube video of how it was done in America.

Ten Vaanholt was on his way to a campsite and the trailer was carrying four quad bikes, two chainsaws, a motorcycle, several fuel containers and other items including boots and helmets.

When the trailer was weighed after the crash, it was found to be more than one-and-a-half tonnes over the recommended capacity.

Prosecutor Raymond Soh said an expert who examined the vehicles had classified them as a "road train" which he said Ten Vaanholt had "recklessly created".

He said Ten Vaanholt was not licensed to drive such a vehicle, while the caravan itself was not designed or certified to tow anything.

Serious error had tragic consequences: judge

Judge Felicity Davis said Ten Vaanholt had believed at the time that what he had done was safe, and did not know the trailer was overweight or that the caravan should not have been used to tow it.

She said the "tragic consequences that occurred were because of a serious error of judgement … and a failure to properly assess the risks".

"You had effectively constructed a three-vehicle road train," Judge Davis said.

"You were far too confident in your assessment."

Judge Davis said Mr Illing's death was a huge shock for his family.

Just four days before the crash, he had bought an airline ticket so could visit his elderly sick mother in New Zealand and see her one last time before her death.

However, Judge Davis accepted that Ten Vaanholt was deeply remorseful, noting he had reimbursed Mr Illing's family for his funeral and for the cost of them travelling to Perth from the United States.

She also said Ten Vaanholt was of prior good character and had suffered mental health problems as a result of the accident, telling the author of a pre-sentence report that he could not forgive himself for his actions.

Judge Davis imposed an 18-month suspended jail term, with a requirement that Ten Vaanholt be supervised in the community and that he undergo counselling.

His driver's licence was also suspended for two years.

Victim in 'wrong place, wrong time'

After the sentence, a friend of Mr Illing's, Bruce Blacklock, described him as someone who had a lot of friends and who everybody got along with.

He said Mr Illing was a delivery driver who, at the time of the crash, was covering for a colleague who had gone on holidays.

"He was filling in for the week for him. So it was just a matter of wrong place, wrong time," Mr Blacklock said.

"If he'd been another five minutes up the road or five minutes away, even another 100 metres, it would have made all the difference in the world.

"But unfortunately that didn't happen."

Mr Blacklock said he was disappointed "in some ways" with the sentence, but said even if Ten Vaanholt had gone to jail it would not have brought Mr Illing back.