‘Catastrophic’ decision led to instant death
A single "catastrophic decision" by a teenager, high on MDMA and antidepressants, led him to kill one of his best mates when he drove into a telegraph pole at high speed just 600 metres from home.
Cameron Cook, now 19, was so addled, that when a firey asked him how he was feeling after the deadly crash in western Sydney last year, he replied, "woah, man this is tripping".
Kasey Xuereb, who was 17, died at the scene from an impact severe enough for the engine block to hurtle towards the passenger compartment. She was remembered today as an "imperfectly perfect" girl who enjoyed watching Netflix crouched on the floor, downing chicken nuggets while cuddling the family cats.
Two other teenagers also in the car were seriously injured.
Cook, from Blacktown, was sentenced today at Parramatta District Court to seven years in jail with a non-parole period of three years and 10 months for aggravated dangerous driving causing death and grievous bodily harm.
He remained stony faced throughout but friends and family sobbed when they heard the teen would spend years in jail.
As he was sent down, Cook removed his suit jacket and tie and handed them to his family.
Kasey's mum Lori Smith told news.com.au that if "one kid puts down the car keys because of not wanting to go to jail" that could save a life.
Sentencing today, Judge Alister Abadee said one terrible decision in the early hours of October 14 2018 led Cook to bring an instantaneous end to the life of one of his friends and seriously injure two others.
In the early hours of the morning, Cook had taken Xanax antidepressant tablets and MDMA. He subsequently told a psychologist he had taken Xanax as a way to stave off stress due to his studies. Cook had also taken MDMA.
Just after 5am, Cook decided to drive home from Quakers Hill to Bankstown with Kasey and two other friends in the car. He was on his P-plates.
One of those friends offered to drive the Mazda 6 instead of Cook, said the Judge. But Cook refused because it was his car and only he trusted himself to be behind the wheel.
"That was a fateful decision that had catastrophic consequences," Judge Abadee said.
It had been an "abandonment of responsibility" to not let anyone else drive.
The trip to Bankstown was short - just 10 minutes at that time of the morning. However, Cook was driving at over the 50km/h speed limit the court heard, and the road was wet.
At about 5.30am, just 600m from his destination, he failed to take a bend. The car mounted the footpath and travelled down a nature strip for 20 metres before ploughing into the pole causing irreparable damage.
Seven minutes later firefighters arrived to find Cook looking dazed outside the car. He had taken "pills" earlier, he said, and remarked "woah, man this is tripping".
The firefighter said that Cook seemed unaware of the gravity of the terrible accident.
Kasey was travelling in the back seat immediately behind the driver. It was possible she was asleep at the time of the impact.
She was found slumped with her legs against the back of the seat in front, clearly deceased.
According to court documents, it is likely she was not seated correctly or her seatbelt was badly adjusted which saw it tighten around her neck upon impact. Her multiple injuries led to immediate death and once she became limp, she slid forward in the seat.
A blood test at Westmead Hospital revealed Cook had 0.11mg/L of Xanax in his system and 0.26mg/L of MDMA. It was enough that a pharmacologist said it would have "substantially impaired" his ability to drive.
The teenager said he had self-medicated with Xanax due to anxiety over his studies and exams. But Judge Abadee wasn't convinced and noted that the explanation didn't account for the MDMA in his system.
He added the "tripping" remark was almost certainly in relation to MDMA, rather than Xanax.
"I'm not persuaded consumption of a combination of drugs was attributable to an underlying social anxiety disorder. It's more likely to produce a euphoric social experience… for his own gratification"
One of the other passengers in the car, who is under 18 and spent weeks in hospital undergoing facial reconstruction surgery, said she "felt like I was an object that was collateral damage for someone else's mistake."
In a victim impact statement, Kasey's grandma Jill Smith said her "blood ran cold" when she heard officers telling her daughter that the child had been killed.
"I had to grab (Kasey's mum Lori) as she buckled at the news."
Kasey's grandad Stuart Smith was blunt: "If the offender had acted responsibly, and with common sense, and had given a thought to the safety of other people none of this would have happened."
He described taking his daughter to Glebe Coroner's Court and how they "smelled the smells" of the morgue as they identified Kasey.
In her statement, Ms Smith said she has admonished herself for wishing it wasn't Kasey they would find: "How could I wish this on someone else's family?"
When she arrived, she said she was told the neck injury would be hidden. "But it wasn't. It was purple against the white of the skin." Ms Smith said her daughter "looked like a broken doll".
"My daughter was a beautiful, intelligent kid, imperfectly perfect. Every fibre of my being yearns for her. I hardly sleep and when I do my sleep is full of nightmares."
Outside court, the family told news.com.au they had "prepared for the worst", for Cook to walk away with no jail time.
"If it's almost always a light sentence, what's the deterrent in that?" said Kasey's mum, Lori Smith.
It was a relief when they heard he would serve time.
"Nothing will bring Kasey back but this is for the next family. If one kid puts down the car keys because they don't want to go to jail then another kid could be saved."
She said the sentence was adequate, but for the family it was a "life sentence".
Judge Abadee said he took into account Cook's young age, his genuine remorsefulness and the lack of any prior convictions when sentencing him to at least three years and 10 months behind bars.
With parole, Cook could see freedom once again in September 2023. Once out, he will not be able to drive for 18 months.