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Woman sentenced after Carterton hit-and-run

James August’s sisters Hope August, left, and Cameron Phillips, right, and mother Tira August, centre, outside Masterton District Court after the sentencing of Annette Puhara. PHOTO/SOUMYA BHAMIDIPATI

Crash victim still in hospital

The family of Carterton hit-and-run victim James August are “happy” to have closure, following the sentencing of the woman responsible at Masterton District Court on Tuesday.

Annette Puhara, 67, who pleaded guilty was sentenced to five months community detention and was disqualified from driving for 12 months after she failed to stop or ascertain injury when she hit August with her car at about 1.40am on May 22.

Judge Barbara Morris said an important consideration was the level of intent in the crime.

“Clearly, hitting something along the road, there is a very important obligation to stop and check that it is not a person,” she said. “You picked up your family members and went home.”

“Your daughter noticed the dent and asked if you had hit Mr August, and you said you had not.”

The maximum possible sentence was imprisonment for five years.

Starting with a sentence of nine months’ imprisonment, Judge Morris said she had taken Puhara’s age, character, and guilty plea into account when reducing the sentence to community detention.

The judge noted Puhara had offered emotional harm reparation of $2000, to be paid at $50 a week, although she was of “limited means”.

“You are a woman of good character and, as [defence lawyer Susie Barnes] said, this is wholly out of character.”

Addressing the victim’s family directly during the sentencing, Puhara apologised for her actions.

After the proceedings, she said she felt the sentence was fair.

James August and his family. PHOTO/FILE

Hope August said her brother James had been readmitted to hospital on Sunday.

“I’m sure he’ll be elated at the news.”

His other sister Cameron Phillips read a victim impact statement on behalf of the family during the sentencing.

“The road has been long and painful for James as he continues to struggle with the injuries from that cold May morning,” she said.

“We are so broken-hearted that he has to endure so much pain.

“He cries when the pain gets too bad. When he cries, we cry with him.

“He misses working and being more active and is frustrated his progress has been so slow.

“Any time spent away from the four-walled prison is welcomed.”

Judge Morris said the statement showed compassion and forgiveness.

“Clearly this whanau is one with much mana and wairua.”

She directed that a restorative justice referral be provided after the sentencing, as the original conference was unable to be held.

While Phillips thought it would be good to meet the defendant, other family members just wanted to move on.

“We’ve got family who’ve got half-hearted feelings about meeting for restorative justice.

“Now that there’s a closure we’re just going to move on.”

James’ mother Tira August said she was happy with the sentencing outcome.

“I’m happy that we have closure. We all learn from our mistakes, hopefully,” she said.

“I’m a grandmother, she’s [Puhara] a grandmother.”

“Mentally, it’s been draining.”

During the hearing, police prosecutor Ella Scown said a sentence with a more punitive aspect was required to reflect the seriousness of the event.

“Once she had become aware, once the defendant’s daughter informed her [of the dent in the car], she didn’t make all reasonable enquiries.”

Barnes said Puhara had not seen August on the road, although she had felt the impact upon collision.

The police had accepted this position, she said.

She described Puhara as a widow with five adult children, 17 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

She had cared for one of her grandchildren, now aged 14, since birth.

She worked as a motel cleaner seven days a week and did not watch television or have social media.

“She lives for her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren,” Barnes said.

“She was wholly unaware of the police investigation.”

The moment Puhara realised she may have hit August was highly devastating, and she would carry that for the rest of her life, Barnes said.

“[This event] speaks to the danger we are all in when we are on the road.

“Things can happen in a moment that changes the course of many people’s lives.”

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