FATAL CRASH: A truck rolled on the Leichhardt Highway near Theodore, around 7.15am Sep 25, 2015 with the driver and the passenger trapped in the truck needing extraction.
FATAL CRASH: A truck rolled on the Leichhardt Highway near Theodore, around 7.15am Sep 25, 2015 with the driver and the passenger trapped in the truck needing extraction. Contributed

Model citizen imprisoned after tragic lapse in judgment

ALL it took was one bad decision to see a model citizen's life turned into a nightmare culminating in him being led off to prison yesterday.

After working for 14 years as a professional driver, Murray James Paradisi's driving record was excellent until the fateful morning of September 25, 2015.

On the day before the accident, Paradisi, who was 39 at the time, was suffering from the flu and didn't want to drive a loaded Iveco tilt tray truck between Newcastle, NSW and Saraji Mine, Dysart.

He reluctantly agreed after being told that co-driver David Russell, 47, was available to share driving duties and they set off at 5.30pm.

The men took it turns driving in five hour shifts and it was after Paradisi took over driving at 3am and after taking a break in Taroom, he ran into trouble with staying awake on the Leichardt Highway.

With no coffee, heavy eyes and starting to nod, Paradisi "struggled on” despite knowing the warning signs of driver fatigue, out of a misplaced sense of "fairness” to his co-driver whom he didn't want to wake up three hours into his shift.

He later admitted to police that he dozed off about 10km south of Theodore, with the truck consequently driving off the highway and down a gully - he awoke, over-corrected, the vehicle fish tailed, he lost control and the truck rolled sideways and onto its roof.

Paradisi and his co-driver were trapped and needed to be cut from the wreck, with Mr Russell airlifted to Rockhampton Hospital before dying later that afternoon from the crushing injuries he sustained.

Dressed in a black suit, standing sombrely in the dock of Rockhampton's District Court yesterday, Paradisi remorsefully pleaded guilty to the dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death.

His defence barrister Marcin Lazinski described how his client, who was an ordinary decent working person of good character and an excellent driving record, was devastated by the incident and was receiving treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

"There's no other way to put it, it was a tragedy for everyone involved, not the least for the family of Mr Russell,” Mr Lazinski said.

On legal advice and out of respect for Mr Russell's family, Paradisi had refrained from contacting Mr Russell's family and hadn't been able to express his genuine remorse as he would have liked.

His lawyer tendered a letter of remorse he hoped could be passed on to the Russell family along with Mr Russell's last words before he fell asleep on his final morning which were "tell my kids I love them”.

Mr Lazinski tendered numerous positive character references and letters of support and evidence of counselling to rehabilitate his client.

He described how Paradisi now worked in a new field and was raising four children with his partner of 21 years, who was currently battling cancer.

Crown prosecutor Joshua Phillips acknowledged that Paradisi had no criminal record and had been highly cooperative in making full and frank admissions in his interviews with the police to help strengthen their case which would otherwise have been more circumstantial.

Judge Michael Burnett was very sympathetic to the unfortunate circumstances in which he found himself making a judgment in which there were "no winners”.

He said "fatigue was not binary” and "you can't run a compass” to know when a tired driving situation had turned into a dangerous driving situation in which Paradisi had become hazard to other road users.

Mr Burnett said there was a point, 40-50 minutes after he left Taroom that Paradisi "ought to have known that he had become dangerously fatigued”.

There needed to be a public deterrence for driving fatigued and as Paradisi was a professional driver and being old enough to know better, Judge Burnett was forced to be less lenient.

He sentenced Paradisi to two years and six months in prison which would be suspended after he had served four months.

Paradisi was also disqualified from driving for 18 months.

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