The driver behind the hit-and-run incident that killed cyclist Clifford Micallef on the Coast Road in 2009, has been condemned to a three-year jail term and barred from driving for one year.
Anthony Taliana was barely 21 when the accident happened on July 30 at around 5.15am, when the young man was driving a British girlfriend to her residence in Buġibba after a night out in Paceville.
Manoeuvring a bend some metres away from the entrance to the White Rocks Complex, the driver of the Opel Astra crashed into the veteran cyclist, who was violently flung onto the car roof and windscreen before being projected onto the road surface, dying on the spot.
Yet, the driver drove on, dropping his friend at Buġibba before making his way to his father’s garage in Ħamrun where he parked the damaged vehicle. That was where the police had found it, still warm to the touch and bearing visible signs of the impact, when some hours later they managed to track down the owner of the vehicle, the accused’s father.
The man had been driving a van, with his son seated as passenger, when he was stopped by the police, assuming the blame for the accident while his son went on his way. However, under questioning, the father was not at all convincing in his replies, soon admitting that his young son might have been at the wheel.
The suspect was later found lying in bed, fast asleep, inside his Buġibba flat, totally oblivious to the sound of his mobile phone ringing and the knocking of the police at the door. It was the father who eventually let them in. The young man strongly smelt of alcohol.
Criminal charges were filed against him for involuntary homicide, drink-driving, driving without third party insurance cover, driving at excessive speed and relapsing, after having already been convicted of dangerous driving.
In the course of proceedings, court experts reported that at the time of the collision, road conditions were dry and visibility was good. Contact damages on the Opel revealed that the driver had been going at some 90km/hr when he crashed into the bicycle at the rear, sending its rider hurling at impact speed.
A medical expert certified that Mr Micallef had been killed as a direct result of the violent impact.
Although testing negative to drugs, a chemical expert had concluded that a urine sample taken from the accused some six hours after the incident had indicated a strong presence of alcohol, classifying the driver as in a state of “euphoria/excitement” meaning diminution of attention, judgement and control and impaired perception.
The accused’s 17-year old friend and sole eyewitness of the crash had testified about the unfolding of events on that night recalling that “Whilst Tony was driving his car at a moderate to fast speed I saw a cyclist in the middle of the road. I noticed this cyclist when we were very close to him. I could not remember whether the cyclist was wearing a florescent jacket or even if the bike had any light on the rear. After the crash I was in a state of shock. I was screaming and wanted to get out of the car.”
The driver’s reaction to all this had been to tell her "to calm down" and driving on.
This reaction was defined as “deplorable” and “unacceptable” by the court when delivering judgment on Friday, stressing that a message needed to be sent out that human life was “invaluable.”
The accused had not only failed to keep a proper lookout, but, worst still, after hitting the cyclist he had continued on his way rather than stopping to give first aid or at least call for help.
He had ignored his friend’s pleadings to stop, then later went to sleep, allowing his father to face the police in an attempt to shoulder the blame. Such behaviour was “not to be tolerated,” the court stressed.
There had been no contributory negligence on the part of the cyclist who had been listening to music on his MP3 player at the time of the fatality. The driver was all to blame, failing to spot the bike lights and fluorescent gear of the rider.
On the basis of all evidence, the court, presided over by magistrate Audrey Demicoli, declared the accused guilty and condemned him to a three-year effective jail term, whilst imposing a one-year ban on driving.
The man could not be found guilty of having been driving under the influence of alcohol in excess of the prescribed limit since the court could not take into consideration certain calculations made by a court expert on account of a decision by the Constitutional Court in separate proceedings filed by the accused.
These proceedings decided in 2015 had delayed the criminal case. Moreover, the accused’s lawyer had ended his evidence stage in December 2017 which further explained why the judgment had been delayed, the court observed.
The accused will also have to pay €1,267 by way of court expert expenses.