Driver jailed for death of boy, 3
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Durban - Amanzimtoti mom Suzette Ratcliffe choked back her tears as the motorist who killed her 3-year-old son William two years ago was sent to jail.
“There is my full-stop. I am done here, let’s go home,” she said to relatives and friends who gathered at the Durban Regional Court on Tuesday to hear the outcome of the case against Robert Gilmore, 65.
Gilmore’s wife, Hester, also broke down as she watched her husband go down to the cells below court to start serving the five-year sentence handed down by magistrate Phumi Shoba for culpable homicide and drunk driving.
He will have to serve at least 10 months behind bars and then, at the discretion of prison officials, he can be released to serve the balance under house arrest and doing community service.
Evidence before the court was that Gilmore had visited two pubs that afternoon.
On his way home, he recklessly turned in front of the vehicle of Ratcliffe, who was on her way home after picking up William and his younger brother James.
While Gilmore claimed he was not drunk, a blood analysis after the accident showed that he was four times over the limit and witnesses reported that he smelt of alcohol.
There was evidence William had been sitting in the front seat of the car, but, in finding Gilmore guilty, the magistrate said while this may have contributed to William’s injuries, contributory negligence was not an excuse in a charge of culpable homicide.
On Tuesday Gilmore tried to show some last-minute remorse.
Speaking to Ratcliffe across the courtroom, he said: “I am very sorry for what happened to your child. I have got two grandchildren of my own. I am sorry.”
But prosecutor Barend Groen suggested it was “too little, too late” and it was not a real apology because Gilmore had told a social worker compiling a pre-sentence report that he did not take responsibility for the crime.
Gilmore responded: “But a small child should not sit in the front of the car… but I am sorry.”
He conceded that should one of his grandchildren have been killed in similar circumstances he would have been “heartbroken and angry and wanting the person to go to prison”.
Arguing for a sentence of house arrest, Gilmore’s attorney, Naren Narotam, said he would never drive again and “what difference does it make if he goes to jail or sits at home”?
“Will it help the family heal? I don’t know. But it won’t bring William back. He made a mistake. He is 65 years old, he is sick (with epilepsy). You can send someone to jail for 100 years and people will still drink and drive.”
Groen disagreed saying: “People like this need to be sentenced properly.”
The magistrate said the effect of William’s death on his family was evident both through the victim impact statements and how extremely upset his mother was in court.
“This has changed their lives forever.
“You would not be human if it had not also changed your life forever,” she said.
Referring to the fact that he had a previous conviction for drunk driving – dating back 18 years – she said this meant he knew that it was an offence to drive under the influence and a term of imprisonment was “appropriate”.
Charlotte Sullivan, of South Africans Against Drunk Driving, who has been attending the trial, said the sentence was a “step in the right direction”.