Sentence for drugged driver described as “piss weak” by Ben Fordham

Comment from Peter Saxon
When 60 year old Deborah Levy got behind the wheel of her ageing Mitsubishi Starwagon in February last year, she had no intention of causing anyone harm. She certainly didn’t expect to run into Glenn Wheeler on his motor scooter and put the 2GB and Channel Seven presenter in hospital for almost a year. The damage the incident caused to his brain has almost certainly ended the 54 year old’s career.

Levy had troubles of her own that day. For a start, she was homeless, living in the back of the van which was rendered not just un-drivable but uninhabitable by the “accident.”

She had only just heard that her former de facto had passed away, the court was told, which caused her great emotional stress – which is why she turned to drugs. All well and good, if she’d just stayed in the back of the van and had not put the key into the ignition.

Taking all the evidence into account and noting Levy’s remorse, on a charge of negligent driving occasioning grievous bodily harm, Magistrate Julie Huber presiding in Sydney’s Sutherland Local Court, handed down a seven-month suspended sentence with a two year good behaviour bond. She ordered Levy to undergo psychiatric counselling and drug and alcohol rehabilitation.

Wheeler’s close friend, 2GB Drive presenter Ben Fordham described the sentence as “piss weak” and “utterly inadequate.” Wheeler’s son Dane told reporters “She’s turned what used to be a fabulous, bright, happy, successful, amazing man’s life upside down in one hit and it sucks.” 

Of course, what the public considers to be soft sentences are routinely handed down for all manner of offences. It is bread butter for talk presenters to express outrage on behalf of their listeners – IMHO, often unfairly.

It’s all too easy to use a headline or a 60 second rant to rubbish a judgement that was arrived at after weeks of evidence that armchair critics can’t be bothered to sift through. A civilised society requires its courts to raise standards of justice above the mobs’ lust for an eye for an eye.  

But this incident hits closer to home. Glenn Wheeler is one of our own and it causes us all to think, “what if that happened to me?” We cannot be detached. We want retribution.

The worst part is the manner of injury Glenn sustained. If it had been almost any other part of his body, he might have been back on the radio within a month or two. But seeing him bravely struggle to form sentences and annunciate words is heart wrenching for anyone who has ever worked with a microphone.

No doubt Deborah Levy has had many sleepless nights and deeply regrets her actions. It is unlikely that jail time would do anything to affect, one way or the other, the likelihood of her doing anything as stupid again. And no amount of jail time for Levy is going to to help Glenn to recover. 

But a sentence is not just about punishing the offender. It’s about the deterrent factor – the message it should send to the community is that if you smoke weed and get behind the wheel, you are a criminal and will be dealt with as such. 

Interestingly, in ancient Rome being drunk was no excuse or a mitigating factor for an offence committed. In fact, if your dagger accidentally sliced through someone’s toga and into their heart while you were “under the influence,” you were likely to be given a harsher penalty because the Roman legislators believed, rightly so, that the “accident” was preventable and it was your responsibility to stay sober.

No, Deborah Levy did not don a T-shirt with black and white horizontal stripes and cover her face with a mask with the intent of committing a crime.  Success in life had passed her by and she’d had a really tough couple of days. But none of that should count because none of that had anything to do with Glenn Wheeler who became the innocent victim of her personal issues.

Deborah Levy committed a crime the moment she started her van and pulled out from the kerb high on marijuana. At that point, she may as well have held a loaded gun in her hands.

The trouble is, drink or drug drivers or those morons who text in traffic, don’t equate their actions with criminal behaviour on a par with bank robbery or manslaughter.

This was no accident. Levy chose to drive while drug impaired because her selfishness overtook any thought that someone other than her could get hurt. Well, in this case, someone did get hurt. Levy single handedly ruined a life that a man had worked hard to build.

And it’s not just Glenn Wheeler who is suffering. Levy changed the lives of his family too. 

“For us it has always been about him, not her, and it still is for me,” Dane Wheeler told 2GB. “But at the end of the day what has happened today is quite unbelievable to be honest.

“I’m personally very disappointed. For her to walk out and live life like you and I; I just can’t understand it.”

I have no desire to see Levy behind bars and add further woe to her wretched life. But as Dane Wheeler said, ‘it’s not about her.’

It is, however, about about the greater good. And if the courts want to help prevent further tragedies of this kind they must send a strong message that a motor vehicle is a lethal weapon that must not be operated by a driver who is impaired in any way.  A suspended sentence and a bond suggests that even if, by your actions, you end up destroying someone’s life, you can get away with just a slap on the wrist.

Not good enough!

In the words of Ben Fordham, “That’s piss weak.”


Peter Saxon

Note: Peter Saxon is a Director of Recording Artists, Actors and Athletes Against Drink Driving (RADD)

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