Drink-driver unfit to stand trial over woman's death

A SERIAL drink-driver, who killed a great-grandmother last year when his car ploughed through her unit in the retirement village where they both lived, will be placed under supervision after being deemed unfit to stand trial.

A SERIAL drink-driver, who killed a great-grandmother last year when his car ploughed through her unit in the retirement village where they both lived, will be placed under supervision after being deemed unfit to stand trial.

Helen Higginbotham, 92, was killed instantly when John Stein's Toyota Camry sedan crashed through her bedroom wall at the Lexington Gardens retirement village in Springvale just after 4am on May 12, 2011.

She was asleep in bed when Stein's car landed on top of her, killing her instantly. Fire brigade crews had to free Stein from the wreckage.

Victoria's Supreme Court yesterday heard that Stein had a blood alcohol reading of 0.174 almost four times the legal limit after spending several hours before the fatal crash drinking full-strength beer at the Springvale RSL.

Prosecutor Gavin Silbert, SC, told the special hearing that Stein's car had been fitted with an alcohol interlock device, but because it had been voluntarily fitted, he had been given a pin-code, which enabled him to drive without blowing into the device to determine whether he was alcohol-free.

Stein who has an acquired brain injury following a serious car crash in 1968 had five drink-driving convictions dating back to 1995 and on the night Mrs Higginbotham died did not hold a licence following a 2010 traffic infringement.

Justice Paul Coghlan told the jury that a previous jury had found Stein unfit to stand trial because of mental impairment.

Their role, therefore, was different to that of a regular criminal trial and they were simply required to decide, based on the undisputed evidence presented by the sole witness, police informant Acting Detective Sergeant Trevor Collins, if Stein had committed the offence.

A jury of five women and seven men yesterday took less than five minutes to unanimously decide that Stein had committed the offence of culpable driving, which caused Mrs Higginbotham's death.

Justice Coghlan told the court that Stein was liable for a supervision order fixed for a nominal term of 10 years, but whether he will be placed in custody is yet to be decided.

He extended Stein's bail and ordered him to appear at a further hearing on July 16.

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