Durban - In a stern message to drunk drivers, a Durban Regional Court magistrate has given a young man who caused an accident in which three people died, a 20 year prison sentence.
"This type of offence is dangerously frequent... the time has now arrived for courts to consider the imposition of exemplary and austere sentences to those who show wilful and wanton disregard for the rules of the road.
"We need sentences that can have the effect of changing the mind-set of such drivers who become lethal weapons," Magistrate Anand Maharaj said in passing sentence on 24-year-old Kriesen Moodley.
The accident which Moodley was found to have caused resulted in the deaths of three "gym buddies", Delon Gurriah, Kovashen Pillay and Denalin Naicker.
They were driving along Link Road, in Chatsworth on the evening of March 28, 2015, when Moodley - who was driving a BMW Cabriolet which he had taken, without permission, from a friend - crashed into them at high speed.
Post mortem reports revealed that all three had died from "blunt force" injuries.
In a report submitted to the court, Warrant Officer Fred Snodgrass concluded: "The evidence clearly indicates that the driver of the BMW is the only cause of the accident. He is suspected of being highly intoxicated and the damages indicated that he was driving too fast for the environment.
"The vehicle he was driving is very powerful with the capability of accelerating to high speeds in a very short time. He appears to have been driving too fast and was not able to negotiate the bend as a result of his sobriety [lack of] and probably exceeding the safe negotiating speed of the bend," he said.
While a blood sample was taken from Moodley at the scene, a report from the forensic chemistry laboratory - also handed into court - indicated that when an analyst broke the intact seal, there was no blood specimen inside.
During the trial - and in an interview with a correctional supervision officer after he was convicted - Moodley maintained his innocence.
Magistrate Maharaj, in sentencing, referred to victim impact statements written by the families of the three dead men.
"The common thread is evident… they have suffered insurmountable pain and loss," he said.
He said the department of education should consider introducing subjects at school on road-related driver education in order to try to reduce fatalities on the road.
He also said "perhaps in the foreseeable future", there would be legislative intervention to include culpable homicide in the case of road deaths in the so-called minimum sentence legislation.
"Your attorney has asked the court to consider a non-custodial sentence on the basis that you are a first offender, you have a child, and this is your first brush with the law… but that is not appropriate because the interests of the victims have not been taken into account. Nor has the interests of society and the deterrent aspect of punishment."
He also rebuffed suggestions by the defence attorney that "it was an isolated incident" and that Moodley had taken the car "on the spur of the moment".
"You were having a function at home... you were imbibing alcohol, you had no business to take somebody else's car knowing you were under the influence of alcohol.
"The court needs to not only punish you for what you have done, but deter other like-minded people."
He said had Moodley pleaded guilty and accepted responsibility he may have been persuaded to be more lenient.
He sentenced him to five years on each of three counts of culpable homicide, three years for drunken driving and two years for reckless driving. He also ordered that cancellation of Moodley's driver's licence.
Moodley has lodged an application for leave to appeal arguing that the State had not proven the case beyond reasonable doubt and the magistrate had drawn unfair inferences.
He said the sentence was "too harsh" and he should not have been used as a "sacrificial lamb on the altar of deterrence".