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Former traffic cop defends 'Google Maps' death driver

IN COURT: Meghan Hopper (in sunglasses) walks with friends from Brisbane District Court.
IN COURT: Meghan Hopper (in sunglasses) walks with friends from Brisbane District Court. Apn Newsdesk

ONE of the Sunshine Coast's most respected fatal traffic crash investigators has jumped to the defence of a young Maleny woman who was spared jail after being involved in a crash while using Google Maps.

The Queensland Court of Appeal upheld the original sentence for Meghan Hopper despite an appeal by Attorney General Jarrod Bleijie.

Ms Hopper received a 30-month suspended sentence for a moment of inattention that killed Taiwanese fruit-picker Chen-Chuan Yang, 25, and severely injured Kwan-Jun Wu, 30, on July 7, 2012.

At the time, the 17-year-old P plate driver  told police she was looking at Google maps.

The case has sparked a flurry of social media comments and even calls to boycott her family business.

But Garry Church, a retired Forensic Crash Unit officer, took to his own Facebook page today calling for calm.

"I don't by any means condone what Meghan has done in taking a life and seriously injuring another, and I certainly don't condone the second incident where she was caught using a mobile in the Brisbane area.

"Having a driving licence means you take a big responsibility when entering our road for yourself and other road users and this responsibility shouldn't be taken lightly.

But he said he did not believe sending a young person for jail was warranted in this case as it did not involve speed, alcohol or any deliberate act.

"The Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie has done what the majority of the public expected; the Courts of Appeal have done what the law has enabled it to do,'' he wrote in his post.

Mr Church, who has known Ms Hopper's uncle for many years, said the woman's mother had contacted him prior to her first court appearance to say the family would be attending a Safe Driving Awareness program in Maroochydore.

Ms Hopper also offered to make a presentation to other drivers.

Mr Church said while there would be those who thought Ms Hopper had got off too lightly, he had read the court transcripts and believed the Court of Appeal had got it right.

No further avenue of appeal, says Bleijie

A SPOKESWOMAN for Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie said yesterday he had no further avenue of appeal, following the Queensland Court of Appeal's decision to uphold a suspended sentence for Sunshine Coast woman Meghan Hopper.

Ms Hopper, of Maleny, received a 30-month suspended sentence for a moment of inattention that killed Taiwanese fruit-picker Chen-Chuan Yang, 25, and severely injured Kwan-Jun Wu, 30, on July 7, 2012.

At the time she told police she was looking at Google maps.

She said she did not see Ms Wu or Mr Yang.

Mr Bleijie appealed the sentence, and on Friday the Court of Appeal brought down its decision.

"I appealed the sentence of Ms Hopper because I felt her sentence was manifestly inadequate," Mr Bleijie said yesterday.

"I note the Court of Appeal agreed that ordinarily this offence would demand a sentence of imprisonment," he said.

"Even so, the court did not hand down a prison sentence and I must respect its decision."

Adam Davies was in the Appeal Court on Friday. These are his observations ...

ANYONE would agree with me it is unacceptable in today's society to use your iPhone while driving and plough into two innocent people who just happen to be walking on the side of the road.

The Queensland Police Service makes a point to ensure road safety messages are everywhere you look.

So what happens if you play with your iPhone while driving, kill someone, and leave another with life-long injuries?

If you do, just make sure you hire the best defence barrister in town.

Sunshine Coast P-plater Meghan Catherine Elizabeth Hopper, dubbed the iKiller, did just that and walked out of court with just a slap on the wrist.

Hopper pleaded guilty in the Brisbane District Court last year to the dangerous driving resulting in the death of Chen-Chuan Yang and the grievous bodily harm of Kwan-Jung Wu.

The court heard Hopper was driving along Beerburrum Road near Elimbah on July, 7, 2012, shortly after 9.30pm when she veered off the road into the two Taiwanese fruit pickers.

She was using Google maps on her iPhone at the time.

Hopper told police who arrived at the tragic scene that she was so distracted she did not even realise she had hit them.

To make matters worse less than five months after killing Mr Yang police caught her in Brisbane using her iPhone (Google maps again) while driving and she was subsequently fined for that offence.

Hopper's family, who are the owners of the Maleny Dairies, enlisted Queensland's top barrister as her advocate at sentencing.

The court was presented with a number of glowing character references, including from her employer Maleny Dairies.

Her barrister put in a sterling performance and kept the teen out of the big house.

He told the court that since the incident Hopper had found religion.

At least he did not wheel out the common drug, alcohol, sexual abuse as a child claims which seems to be standard these days in court rooms across the state.

His address was professional and impeccable.

Judge Hugh Botting slapped her with a suspended sentence and she walked from court a free woman.

Love him or loathe him, rightly so, Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie appealed the sentence as being manifestly inadequate.

The Queensland Court of Appeal on Friday dismissed Mr Bleijie's appeal despite all three justices agreeing the sentence was manifestly inadequate.

Two of them exercised their discretion not to interfere based on Hopper's rehabilitation attempts and psychologist visits since sentence.

Justice Philip Morrison went as far to say her crime (killing someone) was extremely serious.

No one would argue with that.

"The need for general deterrence looms large in my opinion, given the very serious nature of the offending conduct," he said.

"The offence came about because of quite deliberate conduct, which did not take place on the spur of the moment."

Justice Hugh Fraser said new evidence showed Hopper had benefited from not having a custodial sentence.

I bet she did.

I am sure the 7000 other people in the state's jails would claim they too would have benefited from not having a custodial sentence.

The new evidence in question was that Hopper had started seeing a psychologist.

I know that juges like to hear that sort of thing and see a person on the road to rehabilitation.

However, call me a cynic; I am troubled as to why someone needs a psychologist to tell them not to break the law, especially when no medical evidence was tendered at her sentencing.

But get this.

The court made a very strong point that their decision cannot be used as precedent in similar cases.

However, all three judges regarded the offence as warranting a jail term.

So my perception is always hire the very best barrister or you could be eating cold baked beans from a tin plate for at least three years in the same place I believe Hopper should be.

Never mind about Hopper for a minute.

No doubt she is doing just fine up at Maleny a free woman surrounded by family, friends and a psychologist.

But I cannot help but feel sorry for her victims.

What about Ms Wu who has permanent and life-long injuries as a result of Hopper's crime?

What about Mr Yang's family and friends?

What about their suffering and loss?

Ultimately, Hopper is a fortunate teen from a good family who was afforded the best defence.

Maybe Premier Campbell Newman was on to something when he said the "legal fraternity should come out of their ivory towers."

Maybe he was right when he said the judiciary was out of touch with community expectations.

In this case I believe they were.

Topics:  appeal, editors picks, meghan hooper, phone driving, queensland court of appeal, sentencing


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