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Deadly drink-driver nearly four times over legal limit

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The accident scene at the eastern ed of the Avenue of Honour in Bacchus Marsh. Photo - Helen Tatchell

By Jessica Howard

The driver accused of killing 22-year-old Gisborne man Hayden Kloppers was nearly four times over the legal blood alcohol limit, a court has heard. 

Paul Smith, 26, returned a reading of more than 0.20 per cent in the hours after the fatal car accident that occurred on Saturday March 25, 2017. 

The Kurunjang man appeared in the Victorian County Court in Melbourne today charged with one count of culpable driving. 

The court heard the accused was travelling at a minimum 168k/h on Bacchus Marsh Road when he lost control of his white Holden utility and crashed into a large tree located at the Bacchus Marsh Avenue of Honour. 

The speed limit is 60k/h on that stretch of road. Passenger, Hayden Kloppers died at the scene. 

In a victim impact statement, the deceased’s father Roelof Kloppers told of his heartbreak following the sudden death of his son. 

“No words can put into perspective what I [am feeling],” he said.

“I can keep talking of the pain of viewing my son’s body in the morgue or missing his face at Christmas dinner, but that won’t bring him back”.

The court heard Smith had been drinking at two Bacchus Marsh venues on the night of the incident.

The victim, who had met Smith’s roommate two-weeks prior at the Gisborne Hotel, had agreed to pick up the accused at around 1am and take him back to his Kurunjang property.

The court heard the victim drove Smith’s vehicle to Flanagans Border Inn in Bacchus Marsh, arriving at around 1:30am.

CCTV footage showed Smith approach the passenger side of the vehicle before making his way to the driver’s side and swapping seats with the victim.

The vehicle was seen driving at a fast rate before doing a burn out and turning right towards Main Street in Bacchus Marsh.

At 1:37am, the vehicle was captured driving in an easterly direction when it lost traction and collided with a large elm tree, and then a shed.

The passenger seat, alongside the engine and other parts of the vehicle, were ejected on impact.

Police attended the scene, where the accused was found sitting on the ground with no shirt or shoes.

Police allege the man said he did not know what had happened and couldn’t remember if he had been driving the vehicle.

Smith told police he thought the speed limit was 100k/h.

In an interview on March 28 2017, the accused told police he remembered making a phone call to his roommate to ask for a lift home, but could not recall the accident.

On July 28 2017, he pleaded guilty to culpable driving.

The victim’s younger brother, Jonty said he should never have had to have seen his brother’s body in the morgue or plan his funeral.

His mother, Loren said there was “not much laughing in our house or in our lives anymore”.

Smith’s lawyer Marcus Dempsey said the accused, who was 25-years-old at the time of the incident, had an “utterly unremarkable background”.

“There’s no criminal history… no criminal offences… no mental disorders… no drug or gambling addictions,’” he said.

“He was, and is, much loved by his family”.

Mr Dempsey said while Smith had started binge drinking on weekends at the age of 16, it had never resulted in any aggravated or criminal behavior.

He said on the night of the incident, Smith had left his car at home and had no intention of driving.

“[Upon being picked up], he has for some reason decided that he would drive, and there are only a few minutes between this decision and the fatality.

“He first approached the passenger seat…. but instead the decision to drive is made with a spectacular level of intoxication”.

Mr Dempsey said Smith had clear gaps in his memory of the night and that there was “ample evidence of his unfathomable remorse”.

“There has been a proper human reaction of guilt to the life that he has taken,” he said.

“He says that it should have been him that died that night”.

Smith will be sentenced in Melbourne at a date to be fixed.

The maximum penalty for culpable driving is 20-years’ imprisonment.

Judge Gregory Lyon was presiding.