Man faces eight year total sentence for causing death by driving while drinking and speeding

In what Lord Chief Justice Whitten described as a tragic case, the Supreme Court has sentenced a man to five and-a-half years prison for causing death by driving.

The victim, local businessman, Tausinga Taumoefolau . Photo/Facebook

The sentence has been added to his  existing term and he will serve a total of eight years. It has also been backdated to the date of his arrest.

In September 2019 the accused, Lemoto Manu, was convicted by Judge Cato on a count of grievous bodily harm and sentenced to four and a half years imprisonment.

Manu’s victim,  local businessman Tausinga Taumoefolau, was left in a vegetative state which has rendered him dependent on the support and care of his family, likely for the rest of his life.

The court was told Manu had long standing mental problems, but had been  found fit to stand trial.

In that trial Judge Cato ordered that, pursuant to Section 67 of the Mental Health Act, Manu was to be detained at the mental health facility at Vaiola Hospital under the care of Dr Puloka.

Manu was released from hospital in December 2019. Dr Puloka told Lord Chief Justice Whitten that at the end of every year, the psychiatric ward was inundated with more patients than it could hold.

To accommodate the overflow the hospital released some of the inpatients whom the medical staff assessed as representing a low risk. Despite the fact that he was serving a sentence for grievous bodily harm, the inpatients released included Manu.

On the afternoon of December 28 Manu returned to the psychiatric ward and collected three patients without their doctor’s permission. They began driving around while drinking Tongan alcohol brew known as “hopi”.  By 9pm it was raining heavily. The Defendant was driving their vehicle west on Vuna Rd, speeding and swerving across the road.

The passengers could see a small white car parked ahead on the left side of the road. In it the victim was buying tomatoes from a nearby vegetable stall. As he held money out his car window for the seller, Manu’s vehicle swerved over the footpath and collided with the rear of the victim’s vehicle.  The defendant’s vehicle was estimated to have been travelling at between 80 and 100 kph.

The victim’s vehicle was propelled into the concrete fence of the Chinese Embassy.  Manu then drove off.  The victim was then rushed to the hospital but was declared dead on arrival.

He was arrested the next day and admitted to the offending.

Further psychiatric evaluations were requested, including an assessment of whether a defence of insanity had been considered. Dr Puloka stated that it was unlikely that Manu was legally insane at the time of the offence.

Judge Whitten said the deliberate use of a motor vehicle after long bouts of heavy drinking, contained an element of willfulness that was repugnant and showed disregard for the law and for the safety of others.

The offending occurred while the Defendant was serving a sentence for a very serious grievous bodily harm and left the scene without trying to help the victim.

“Having regard to the nature and seriousness of the offences, I do not consider the extent of the additional time to be served for this offence upon the expiration of the current sentence for grievous bodily to be excessive,” Lord Chief Justice Whitten said.

“The overall result is an appropriate response to the Defendant’s recidivism, his disregard of the law and his demonstrated danger to the community and himself. “

He will be kept under Dr Puloka’s supervision.

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