A SUNSHINE Coast P-plater who killed a Taiwanese fruit picker and seriously injured his companion after being distracted by her iPhone while driving along a country road has walked free from court.
Meghan Catherine Louise Hopper, 19, of Maleny pleaded guilty in the Brisbane District Court on Monday to the dangerous operation of a motor vehicle resulting in the death of Chen-Chuan Yang and the grievous bodily harm of Kwan-Jung Wu.
Crown Prosecutor Julie Alyward told the court Hopper, who was 17 at the time, had been driving along Beerburrum Road near Elimbah on July, 7, 2012, shortly after 9.30pm when the tragedy occurred.
"Distracted by her phone, she veered off the road, travelled some distance before realising she may have hit something," she said.
"She turned the vehicle around and that is when she saw two people laying on the ground motionless.
"By her own admissions she did not even realise she had hit the two."
Ms Alyward said Hopper had admitted to the triple-000 operator and police who attended the scene she was using her iPhone at the time of the accident which killed Mr Yang instantly and left Ms Wu on life support in the back of an ambulance.
"Police investigators did not locate any pot holes or debris on the straight stretch of road that could have contributed to the crash," she said.
"She was then taken to a police station where she refused to take part in a formal interview."
Ms Alyward told the court Hopper had taken a "cavalier approach to driving" after she was picked up in Brisbane less than five months after killing Mr Yang using her iPhone while driving.
"The fact she killed someone and severely maimed another only to be caught on her phone less than five months later is disturbing," she said.
"The outcomes of Hopper's actions were tragic.
"A family has lost their son. The same son they bid farewell on his overseas holiday to Australia not knowing at the time he would never return.
"A strong message needs to be sent that this type of behaviour is not acceptable."
Hopper's family, who are the owners of the Maleny Dairies, enlisted Queensland's top barrister Michael Byrne to defend her against the charges.
Mr Byrne presented a number of references, including glowing work references, to the court and said "this event has changed her life forever."
Judge Hugh Botting sentenced Hopper to 30 months in jail, but wholly suspended the sentence allowing her to walk free from court to the jubilation of more than 25 family and friends who were supporting her.
In sentencing, Judge Botting said Hopper was charged with a "very serious offence" but it was a "very cruel twist of fate" that the two people happened to be walking alongside the road at that particular time.
"I am satisfied you have shown remorse in many ways," he said.
"I have given very serious thought as to whether you should serve actual time in custody.
"However, I do not believe society's interests would be served by sending you to jail."
She was further disqualified from driving for three years.
Outside court Hopper's family and supporters jostled with media and said she would not be making any comment and had no message for the family of the man she killed.
Queensland road safety advocate Russell White said, in light of Hopper's lenient sentence, there has to come a time where this type of behaviour while driving becomes socially unacceptable.
"You would think in this case she would have learnt her lesson the first time after she killed someone," he said.
"When people are let off like this they do not see the consequences of their actions so there is really no deterrent.
"Maybe mandatory sentencing is the way to go as the message does not seem to be getting through."
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