Drug-crash mother jailed for 5 1/2 years

Tim EdmundsAlbany Advertiser
The crash scene south of Mt Barker in August 2017.
Camera IconThe crash scene south of Mt Barker in August 2017. Credit: Laurie Benson

A mother was caught drug-driving in the days before and after she crashed her car on Albany Highway under the influence of amphetamine, leading to her young son suffering life-threatening brain injuries.

Carmel Paula Deana Townhill, 32, was this week jailed for 5 1/2 years after admitting to dangerous driving causing grievous bodily harm under the influence of drugs and possessing methamphetamine with intent to sell or supply in 2017.

Her seven-year-old son Zeth Steicke suffered a traumatic brain injury, a broken jaw and spinal and internal injuries after being thrown from the back seat of the car, which hit a tree and rolled on Albany Highway on August 12, 2017.

Townhill was driving to Mt Barker to pick up her boyfriend with Zeth and her three-year-old daughter in the car when she lost control and crashed 5km from the town at 9.20pm.

The court heard she was texting her boyfriend while driving with low fuel and had left her third child at home unsupervised.

A sentencing hearing in Albany District Court on Monday was told Townhill had taken amphetamines the day before the crash and the amount of the drug in her system was 39 times higher than the average impairment.

Defence lawyer Elizabeth Hamilton said her client was adamant her son was restrained with a seatbelt but he had a habit of releasing it.

The court was told Townhill was also charged with possessing 7.4g of methamphetamine with intent to sell or supply while on bail for the dangerous driving charge and was also caught by police driving with drugs in her system twice in October. She was sentenced to another charge of driving with a prescribed illicit drug in her oral fluid only 16 days before the crash.

Judge Alan Troy said it “absolutely beggars belief” Townhill would continue to drive under the influence of drugs after the crash, which should have acted as a “powerful incentive” to stop.

He described her decision to drive with her children in the car as “entirely selfish” and had a grave suspicion Townhill had later abandoned her son in hospital to avoid detection by police but it could not be proved.

Ms Hamilton asked Judge Troy to avoid a “crushing” sentence and take into account Townhill’s rehabilitation steps taken at Melaleuca Remand and Reintegration Facility since August.

Judge Troy said the full prognosis from Zeth’s injuries would not be known until he reached adulthood but he was already experiencing writing and attention difficulties at school.

Townhill was jailed for four years and three months for the dangerous driving charge and 15 months for possessing methamphetamine with intent to sell or supply, backdated to August, 2017.

She was also disqualified from driving for two years.

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