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Karalee Katsambanis: Why I don't feel sorry for Janet Kirby

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Forty-eight-year-old Janet Louise Kirby, played drinking games with her 15-year-old daughter and daughter's friends, decided to get behind the wheel of her car to drive them to a party and ended up killing her child.

And now, society is meant to swing in right behind her and feel sorry for sending her to jail?

The last post on Janet Kirby's Facebook page has picture of a tearful eye with the statement "There is no pain like the broken heart of a grieving mother."

Yes, what happened to Kirby's daughter is tragic. But Kirby's own actions remain inexcusable.

As a mother, not only am I sickened by this whole crime, but I am sickened that a wave of public sympathy seems to be flooding her way as people push away the facts, replacing them with not-so-subtle tugs at our heartstrings and trying to wash away the fact that this tragedy was caused solely by Kirby's inexcusable actions.


Glib statements that no sentence imposed by a judge could make up for the life sentence she will always carry because her daughter is dead are no excuse and should not be used to wave away the patently obvious.

At 48 years old, personal responsibility should have well and truly kicked in. Parents make mistakes every day. Drinking with your 15-year-old and her friends shows a person so lacking in self-esteem and care for others, coupled with selfish arrogance, that all you can do is shake your head.

Australian society is currently waging a battle in trying to stamp out underage drinking. We have all seen the ads that warn parents an adolescent brain is still developing up until age 18. Or are all of us who don't play drinking games with our teens just 'being square'?

Kirby is just one more West Australian who simply refused to believe that normal rules of society applied to her or that her actions were wrong in the first place.

This Quinns Rocks mother, grandmother and childcare worker made the deliberate and risky decision to drink and drive and indeed paid a huge price.

But, if you do the crime, you need to do the time.

Nowadays, sadly society is becoming accustomed to that never really happening. We always seem to be tough on talk and light on legality. Which is why killing someone – taking a teenage life – does not even seem to place someone in the upper bracket of the sentencing.

The maximum sentence for dangerous driving causing death is 10 years.

Janet Louise Kirby was jailed for four-and-a-half years for dangerous driving causing the death of her 15 year old daughter Lois. She pleaded guilty to several charges and recorded a blood alcohol reading of 0.110 - more than twice the legal limit.

Too many people seem to be jumping to her defence primarily for the fact that that Kirby had no criminal record, posed a low risk of re-offending and was genuinely remorseful. Kirby did indeed plead guilty and in our system is therefore automatically entitled to a discounted sentence.

Some in the legal profession argue that keeping her in jail will not rehabilitate or punish her any more than living with the fact she has killed her own child.

I argue that if we all took that approach, our jails would be completely empty. There are a myriad of excuses we can all trot out. But it does not excuse the horrific crime.

Many in the legal fraternity would tell you that Kirby's sentence was pretty steep for a first time offender. To me, that highlights a problem with sentencing because I cannot accept that four-and-a-half years is a tough enough sentence for recklessly drink-driving, deliberately trying to harm other road users (in this case the innocent moped rider) and eventually killing one of your own children.

Of course, Kirby will suffer the emotional pain of having killed her own daughter through her own stupidity. But, like it or not, whether you are sorry or not, should not mean that you do not go to jail.

Shouldn't Kirby have instead been setting an example to these six youngsters between 15 and 20 rather than playing drinking games with them?

This is not rocket science. How many more programmes do we need to see to get the message that our job as parents is to actually parent our kids, rather than trying to "be cool" or their best friend.

The court heard that Kirby had a blood alcohol level of 0.110 when she crashed on Marmion Avenue, Merriwa in March last year. She was driving six teenagers to a party and was urged on by them to deliberately swerve and give a fright to a moped rider and his pillion passenger.

Kirby then tried to overtake and lost control of her car which crossed over two lanes, swerving in the direction of the moped rider and his passenger. Her car eventually ended up on its' roof.

Fifteen-year-old Lois was one of two passengers travelling in the boot of the car not wearing a seatbelt and ultimately was thrown from the vehicle. Three other passengers were injured. The front seat passenger nearly had her left arm ripped off as she was dragged along the road and she faces more operations to repair the damage.

Throughout the whole court proceedings, we have been told that it was more than just a dreadful accident because the Quinns Rocks mother had made several deliberate and risky decisions.

She also placed the lives of the two young people on the moped at risk.

I mean, who even does that?  Deliberately driving into the path of someone to give them a fright. She was 48 years old, not 18. She was driving on a real road confronting real people – not playing some stupid computer game.

Western Australia's roads are littered with examples of what happens to the rest of our society when selfish people who believe the road rules the rest of us have to obey as drivers evidently do not apply to them.

The fatal crash occurred in March 2014.

Let none of us forget that just over a year earlier in January 2013, Melissa Ann Waters herself a mother of three, chose to drink and drive. She was three and a half times over the legal limit.

It was only 14 short months since Waters had lost control and crashed her car through the Dunbar family home, killing 8-month-old baby Nate who was asleep in his bed. Nate died a shocking death. He did not die instantly and his then seven-year-old brother Kai, witnessed the whole tragedy along with his parents Stacy and Justin.

Waters served less than two years behind bars.

Baby Nate's tragic death spearheaded the statewide campaign "Pledge for Nate" in the hope that we would all think of Nate before we went out and whenever we were tempted to drink and drive.

This was one tragedy that could have been 100 per cent completely avoided if Kirby had taken – and stuck to – that important pledge.

For the Dunbar family, they live their life sentence each and every day.

We all lead busy lives, juggling commitments left, right and centre, but there would have been few Western Australians who did not hear of the Baby Nate case.

Janet Kirby evidently did not think "taking the pledge for Nate" was worth it now did she? She no doubt thought nothing like this could ever happen to her family!

The saddest thing in all this that not only are these women also mothers themselves (and should know better) but all these cases are tragedies that could have been avoided.

There are not many things you can control in life. Your decision to drink and your decision to drive are two things you have total control over.

If you are not capable of doing that, then perhaps you don't deserve to be given these responsibilities in the first place, whether you are 18, 48 or 88.

Sadly, all the remorse in the world will not bring anyone's loved one back.

Janet Louise Kirby will have to live with the heart-breaking consequences of her stupid decisions for the rest of her life.

She must spend at least two-and-a-half years behind bars before being eligible for parole.

She has been disqualified from driving for three years and fined $650.

Let us hope no other Western Australian makes the mistake of Kirby again. However, we know this column will sadly simply fall on deaf arrogant ears as drink driving seems like it will sadly continue to remain part of our state's way of life.

Karalee Katsambanis is a mother-of-three and a journalist for more than 20 years. Listen to her on 6PR's PerthTonight with Chris Ilsley between 9pm-10pm on Mondays.