Family of unborn baby killed in Berry car crash call for justice

Heartbroken: Toni Brown with the tiny cloth nappy worn too briefly by Letariah. Pictures: Robert PeetHer name was Letariah Michelle Margaret Brown.
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She had a little brother awaiting her arrival, a mother and grandmotherready to dote on her.

Yet Letariah –the unborn child killed when her mother wasinjured in a serious accident on the South Coast last October–didn’t exist within the eyes of the law.

Last week the person held responsible for the accident wasjailed for seven months, with a minimumterm of just two months, yether family claim they have been handed a life sentence.

In Nowra Local Court last WednesdayZebulon Wood wascharged with negligent driving occasioning grievous bodily harm for the injuries caused to Letariah’s mother Tayla –yet the law could not punish him for the death of the 26-week-old foetus.

Heartbroken: Toni Brown at Letariah’s memorial. Pictures: Robert Peet

“The law does not acknowledge unborn babies, but we do acknowledge her,’’ grandmother Toni Brown, of Yallah, said.

“These babies are human, even though they haven’t taken their first breath, they’re still babies.

“We bathed her and dressed her and spent two days with her, and I promised her when I held her that I’d do everything I could to get her name recognised.’’

Ms Brown said not only does she grieve for her granddaughter, but also for her daughter Tayla.

“No grandmother should have to bury their grandchild –now I’m watching my daughter go through such awful mental anguish,’’ she said.

Memorial: Toni Brown at her granddaughter Letariah’s memorial site at Lakeside Memorial Park; her inscription reads ‘Fly high our little angel’.

“She held her for two days and didn’t want to let her go –she told the nurses to take Letariah after she fell asleep and she couldn’t bear to part with her.’’

The sentence handed down toWood could never go far enough, said Ms Brown: “My family got given a life sentence.’’

She’s calling on law makers to take another look at the legislation covering the lives ofunborn babies, to give them the acknowledgement they deserve.

It’s not the first time there’s been a call for reform, however under the Crimes Act a child is considered alive only after taking breath.

A bill called Zoe’s Law which would have declared unborn children ‘’legal persons’’ lapsed in late 2014 amid fears it could put restrictions on abortion.

The push for the bill began withthe case of Brodie Donegan, whose unborn daughter Zoe died in 2009 after Ms Donegan was hit by a drug-affected driver while walking.

In 2001, a similar review was sparked after the death of baby Byron, at seven months gestation, after his mother Renee Shields was injured in a road rage attack.

AndQueensland mother, Sarah Milosevic – wholost her unborn daughter Sophie in a crash caused by a drunk driver –is also nowtaking up the fight.

Cherished: A photograph of Letariah’s tiny little feet is one of the treasured mementoes her family holds dear.

By Robert Crawford

Zebulon Wood knew heshouldn’t have been behind the wheel when he drove south on the Princes Highway at Berry on a weekend in October last year.

After all, he was driving with a suspended licence, and had been drinking before getting in the driver’s seat.But what he did next would pale in comparison to the errors he’d already made that day.

In a split second, Wood ran up the back of another car, setting in motion a three-car accident that injured nine people and, most tragically, caused the death of Tayla Brown’s unborn child.

The 18-year-old had been a rear seat passenger in Wood’s car after he’d offered her a lift down the coast to visit a friend.The impact of the crash was so great, despite receiving immediate medical attention, doctors couldn’t save the 26-week foetus.

The tragic story had its conclusion on Wednesday in Nowra Local Court, when Wood, 33, ofNethercote, north west of Eden, was sentenced to seven-months’ jail, with a non-parole period of two months,and disqualified from driving for three years.

He pleaded guilty to negligent driving occasioning grievous bodily harm and driving while suspended.

Magistrate Gabriel Fleming described the incident as an‘’overwhelming tragedy’’.

“There was a degree of negligence – inattention and that resulted in the collision.It caused a catastrophic result. And the defendant was driving while suspended.”

Wood returned a positivebreath test at the scene; yet left hospital before further testing could be undertaken.

“The impact on the victim is aggravated. Tayla Brown was looking forward to welcoming a baby, instead the serious abdominal injuries meant the baby was born not breathing,’’Magistrate Fleming said.

“There has been great impact on the mother.”

She said Wood had indicated he wanted to seek counselling and help but as yet had not done so.

“The punishment must fit the crime. In driving matters we must send a strong message to the community,” Magistrate Fleming said.

“You were driving a motor vehicle with three passengers. You have the care of three people in your hands.”