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'Coughing' truckie jailed

Kenneth Laurence Pillar outside District Court, prior to his bail being revoked in January. Picture: Greg Higgs.
Kenneth Laurence Pillar outside District Court, prior to his bail being revoked in January. Picture: Greg Higgs. Gregg Higgs

TRUCK driver Kenneth Laurence Pillar has been jailed for almost four years, banned from the roads for 15 years and labelled "an accident waiting to happen".  

In sentencing on Thursday, the District Court ruled Pillar's "appalling" history of "flagrant disregard" for road rules and community safety deserve no lesser punishment than jail and a longer-than-usual licence disqualification.  

Judge Sophie David said that, in his three decades of driving prior to killing teacher Maria Dowdell in a head-on crash, Pillar had amassed numerous convictions for his on-road behaviour.  

They included multiple speeding offences, incidents of dangerous driving and being behind the wheel of a heavily laden semi-trailer while under the influence of methylamphetamine.  

Judge David said jurors had rejected Pillar's repeated and still-maintained claims that he blacked out due to coughing fits and that the condition was responsible for the fatal crash.  

"Your driving was highly irresponsible and dangerous, you placed numerous persons at risk on that evening," she said.  

"You have not learned from previous sanctions imposed upon you by the courts.  

"You were, in my mind, an accident waiting to happen."  

Maria Dowdell. Picture: Supplied by the Dowdell family.
Maria Dowdell. Picture: Supplied by the Dowdell family.

Pillar, 55, was found guilty at trial of causing the death of Mrs Dowdell on the Swanport Bridge on National Highway 1 near Murray Bridge in June 2015.  

During his trial, Pillar appeared to repeatedly black out in the dock and, when filmed outside court, would cough and collapse.  

Jurors, however, rejected his claims and associated behaviour - Mrs Dowdell's still-grieving family have since dubbed him "weak and cowardly".  

During sentencing submissions, Pillar insisted he was still suffering from coughing fits and blackouts in prison.  

His lawyer, however, declined to provide the court with a medical report, dubbing the specialist's conclusions "indeterminate".

On Thursday, Judge David said Pillar had done nothing to mitigate his offending, nor had he shown contrition or remorse for his actions.  

Pillar visibly swayed in the dock, and coughed once, as she spoke.

  "This had a devastating impact on Mrs Dowdell's family ... they have lost a cherished member of their family," she said.   "Any sentence I impose could never compensate them for that loss."    

Judge David jailed Pillar for five years, with a non-parole period of three years, 10 months and 21 days.  

Outside court, Mrs Dowdell's daughters Kristen and Nikki said they were "not sure" how they felt about Pillar's prison term.  

"Nothing compensates a loss of life, but it's a start - we are just glad he's off the roads for a long, long time," Nikki said.  

"It's just important that he's not driving, because he was a ticking time bomb by the sounds of it."

Topics:  court crime jail justice

News Corp Australia

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