Mother faces court over decision that claimed her son's life

TRAGIC LOSS: Widgee resident Jacob Shearer was a victim of the 2013 floods.
TRAGIC LOSS: Widgee resident Jacob Shearer was a victim of the 2013 floods. Contributed

NO COURT punishment could ever compare to the devastating penalty that faces Widgee mum Sandra Kay Shearer every day of her life after she lost her son Jacob in the Australia Day floods last year.

However, Ms Shearer faced Gympie Magistrates Court yesterday to answer a charge of dangerous operation of a vehicle from that fateful night that Jacob drowned.

About 20 friends and family followed her into the court room yesterday, many in tears.

The single charge was for driving into flood waters at Little Widgee Creek Bridge on January 27, 2013. On a plea of guilty, the penalty for the 44-year-old mum, well-loved in Widgee, was 100 hours community service.

But while the extent of the charge stopped at driving the family van into the flooded Little Widgee Creek, consequences spanned far beyond.

Ms Shearer's son Jacob, who had cerebral palsy and could not walk or swim, had been in his wheelchair in the back of the van the morning the vehicle became trapped in the swollen creek.

The court heard Ms Shearer, her husband Domenico Di Pasquazio and Jacob had been celebrating Australia Day at the Jockey Club Hotel the evening before. After hours of celebration, at a pub where Jacob was much-loved and well known, the family decided to sleep off the evening's drinks in their van.

Ms Shearer and her husband retired around 10.30pm, and Jacob joined later. The court heard around 3.30am the next morning the family decided to drive home to Widgee.

While the road was wet, Ms Shearer told police the rain was light at best. The court heard she drove cautiously that morning, recalling local lore that if a driver could get across Eel Creek Bridge at times of heavy rain, then making it to Widgee was quite possible.

She crossed about 30cm of flood water near Scrubby Creek Rd, but when she approached Little Widgee Creek, she underestimated the depth of the water covering the bridge.

The court heard she slowly drove the van over the bridge but it stalled. The court heard knee-deep water on the bridge quickly rose and Mr Di Pasquazio cut seatbelts to tie around Jacob, who he took from his wheelchair.

With the family trapped in the rapidly rising creek, there came a beacon of hope when a car arrived, Shearer climbed on to the roof of the van to flag the driver down and they drove for help.

Sadly, in the time it took for help to arrive, strong flood waters knocked the van over and washed the family down Little Widgee Creek.

Despite courageous rescue efforts, Jacob could not be saved and Ms Shearer and Mr Di Pasquazio were found clinging to a tree by rescue services.

The court heard an initial swift water rescue failed to retrieve to the pair and the crew was also swept away, losing its vessel and equipment.

After five hours holding on for dear life, the pair was rescued.

Sadly, Jacob's body was found the next day.

Looking Ms Shearer in the eye, Magistrate Maxine Baldwin spoke with a soft yet determined tone: "You are here charged with simple dangerous operation of a vehicle, and that is the extent," she said.

"You are not here being punished for causing Jacob's death; because you didn't.

"This isn't about Jacob's death, it's about driving into the water.

"You, at a very young age, dedicated your life to Jacob and did your utmost to give him a normal life."

She said in many ways, taking Jacob to the pub for Australia Day was part of giving her bright-eyed son a normal life. She stressed that, while the community urged drivers "if it's flooded, forget it", there were no allegations of reckless or drink driving or speeding.

Prosecutor Sergeant Michael Phillips spoke of his difficulty in fashioning a sentencing submission.

"There has been a tragic outcome, which the prosecution can see," Sgt Phillips said.

"The penalty imposed by herself given what happened... I was trying to fashion a sentence but probation (which can offer counselling) was the only (one) I could come up with."

The Magistrate said Ms Shearer had given to the community through caring for Jacob, and an option of community service gave her a chance to give to the community in a different way.

"This is tragic for your family and the community at large," Magistrate Baldwin said.

Ms Shearer was also disqualified from driving for six months - the mandatory minimum.

Flood markers have since been erected at Little Widgee Creek Bridge.

Gympie Times

Topics:  court

Drug driving: back pain and sentence negotiations

A flowering cannabis plant. File Photo.

Man in court for using marijuana for pain four days before driving

Hoo8Hoo hitting all the right notes

PERFECT HARMONY: Brothers Tim (left) and Sam Aitken, aka Hoo8Hoo, will be hitting the Gympie stage on Sunday afternoon for the Rush Festival concert.

Brothers Tim and Sam Aitken will be taking to the stage as Hoo8Hoo.

Hartwig questions need for sewerage restructure

Councillor Glen Hartwig.

Letter to the editor: Gympie Cr Glen Hartwig raises more concerns

Local Partners

Shannen Doherty reveals fear of dying in post on chemo

Actor Shannen Doherty shared this image of her lying in a hospital bed after a chemotherapy session.

Actor has been fighting cancer since 2015

Eddie Redmayne's stage fright on latest Harry Potter film

Actor Eddie Redmayne stars in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

Actor felt like kid again when he got to film with a wand

Salma Hayek: 'Trump planted story because I turned him down'

Actor Salma Hayek is the latest woman who says U.S presidential nominee Donald Trump acted inappropriately.

Salma Hayek latest woman to accuse Trump of misconduct

Brisbane snake catcher shows who's the Boss

Brisbane snake catcher Julia Baker returns in season two of Snake Boss.

Hit show Snake Boss is back for another season

The Summer that Melted Everything

See what happens when you invite the devil to town

Leonardo DiCaprio nearly drowned while filming

Actor Leonardo DiCaprio

Oscar winner almost drowned in Galapagos

Hit songwriter's Noosa mansion on market

SPECIAL PLACE: The Cintamani estate is going to tender, marketed by Tom Offermann Real Estate.

Is this Queensland's best property?

Kiwi siblings snap up Dotcom mansion for $32.5m

The new toy company owners of the Coatesville mansion want replace any controversy with positivity and fun. Photo / Barfoot and Thompson

The trio paid $32.5 million for the property in June

New $200 million development will create 580 jobs

Cassie And Josh with baby Alfie and daughter Andee. They have bought at new Lennox Head development Epiq.

Majority of new positions will be given to Northern Rivers locals

Cherrabah's mega resort plans axed

PLANS for a massive development at Cherrabah have been scrapped.

What our mayor thinks of the new draft SEQPlan

The plan to use the innovative technology as part of the new Maroochydore CBD was cemented on site today when Mayor Mark Jamieson and Envac Asia Region president Chun Yong Ha formally signed the contract for the $20 million underground waste collection system.

New plan accommodates Sunshine Coast Council's vision for growth.

Dusit Thani finance crisis 'just a small hiccup'

ON TRACK: Springfield Land Chairman, Maha Sinnathamby, Ipswich Mayor Paul Pisasale, Developer Richard Turner and Springfield Land Deputy Chairman, Bob Sharpless, at the recent resort sod turning ceremony.

Property developer says project remains firmly on track