A woman who crashed her four-wheel drive into a… Sydney school class, where two boys died in a “horrific accident”, has been spared a prison sentence.
Maha Al-Shennag stepped on the accelerator instead of the brake after taking her eyes off the road for a moment when a water bottle fell into the footwell.
She had pulled into the school’s parking lot in her Toyota Kluger before plowing into a classroom at Banksia Road Public School in Greenacre in November 2017.
Jihad Darwiche, eight, and Andrew Encinas, nine, died after being trapped under the car while three other children were injured.
Al-Shennag, a widow of four children, pleaded guilty to two counts of dangerous driving resulting in death and three charges related to the injured students.
In the New South Wales On Tuesday, the judge, Stephen Hanley, sentenced her to three years in prison on condition that she must perform 400 hours of community work.
She was also sentenced to two simultaneous community corrections, one for one year and the other for two years, on terms including 100 hours of community service.
The judge rated her moral culpability “to the lowest point” for such violations and described the crash as “a freak accident”. “The circumstances of this crime are truly tragic,” Hanley said.
Al-Shennag had bent over to pick up the water bottle before pressing the accelerator instead of the brake.
She then continued to press the wrong pedal before the Kluger climbed the curb, became airborne and crashed into the classroom with an assistant teacher and about 23 students.
Rescue workers were confronted by screaming children and debris.
In her evidence, Al-Shennag insisted she had applied the brake and said the accident must have been caused by a mechanical failure.
The judge found that she sincerely repented and took responsibility. But he found that she had a lot of trouble coming to terms with the consequences of her actions and that she may have come up with a scenario to deal with it.
Victim statements had referred to the sheer magnitude of the families’ losses. The Darwiche family did not want her to be jailed for a “very tragic accident”.
Many testimonials, including a group reference by all her neighbors, spoke highly of her and described her volunteer and charitable work.
The judge called the long delay in the case no fault of Al-Shennag.
Prosecutors originally charged her with manslaughter, a charge deemed inappropriate by the judge, and had not accepted her very early offer to plead guilty to the driving cases.
Reports referenced her mental and physical health issues, noting that she had become a recluse, consumed with guilt and said she would never forgive herself.
The judge was satisfied “she does not need further rehabilitation” and posed no danger to the community. “I’d be surprised if she ever relapses,” he said.
If she ever drove again, he was confident she would do so in a way consistent with her previous excellent 19-year record, which included just one issue of not wearing a seat belt.