A teenage driver, whose reckless and “manifestly dangerous” driving caused the death of an elderly mother on a Qawra street, was spared time behind bars when his case was retried over a technical error in the first judgment.
Mel Spiteri was 18 when late one evening in June 2011, he took the keys of his father’s Mitsubishi FTO at the family boathouse at Qawra, setting off in the sporty vehicle with his girlfriend seated as passenger.
Driving along the Qawra promenade at over 100km/hour, Spiteri ran over a 77-year old British tourist who was flung some 40 metres up the road and was pronounced death on site.
The victim’s distraught elderly husband later recalled that fateful hit-and-run incident, describing how the car had “appeared from nowhere” and then “just disappeared.”
Another eye-witness had testified that the accused’s car “just flew past….at top speed” and recalled seeing the pedestrian “getting somersaulted.”
The accused’s girlfriend had also testified that two groups of pedestrians had been crossing the street at the time, the second group stopping in the middle, one lady stepping slightly ahead of the rest.
“We hit her,” the teenage girl testified.
The Mitsubishi was later tracked down at Iklin, abandoned by its driver in an attempt to feign that the vehicle had been stolen at the time of the fatal accident.
Spiteri was charged with involuntary homicide, driving the car without licence and insurance cover, simulation of an offence, driving at excessive speed and failing to stop after the collision.
The teenager pleaded not guilty.
In 2014, he was convicted by a magistrates’ court and condemned to a 2-year effective jail term, as well as a fine and a one-year driving ban.
However, when the case went to appeal, the criminal court, in October 2019, had pointed out a technical defect in the first judgment, not raised by the appellant, namely that in the operative part of the judgment, the charges underpinning the conviction had not been clearly stated. That conviction was annulled and the case was sent back for retrial.
On Thursday, the court, presided over by magistrate Rachel Montebello, delivered judgment, once again concluding that the sole cause of death had been nothing but the reckless and manifestly dangerous driving of the accused. He had been driving at over 100km/hour, a speed that exceeded by far the maximum limit in any area of the island, let alone in a street dotted with commercial establishments, hotels and residences.
Although the defence lawyers raised the notion of contributory negligence, arguing that the victim had not used the zebra crossing some 77 metres away, the court observed that such a fact did not waive criminal liability in this case. The accused had been driving at “condemnable speed,” totally ignoring his basic duty “of keeping a careful and proper lookout of the road ahead and all activity around him.”
His speed had been so excessive that he had completely failed to attempt any manoeuvre to avoid or minimize impact, even though the stretch of road was straight, allowing visibility of the victim metres ahead, the court went on.
The court also declared the accused guilty of fabricating the traces of a crime by pretending that the car had been stolen, to shift blame for the hit-and-run away from himself.
When meting out punishment the court observed that what the accused had done was “deplorable,” noting further how he had never personally apologized to the victim’s family, although he had every opportunity to do so.
Yet, when all was considered, the court observed that the actions causing the “macabre” death of a mother, whose life was cut short, and plunging her family into tragedy, had been an “isolated and unfortunate incident” brought about by “the folly of youth.”
A probation officer, assessing the accused, reported that the young man had no criminal past, had a stable life with projects for the future and had no other brush with the law over the past six years.
Weighing these factors, the court concluded that justice could be served without inflicting an extreme punishment, thus varying the effective imprisonment to a 24-month jail term suspended for 3 years. The fine and the one-year driving ban were confirmed, together with €6253.23 in court expenses.
Lawyers Franco Debono, Marion Camilleri and Amadeus Cachia were defence counsel.