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Driver who killed mate 'racked by shame'

Date

Mark Russell

An Indian taxi driver was drunk, speeding and zig-zagging on Lygon Street with five people in the car when he crashed into a pole, killing a passenger, a court heard today.

Riyaz Khoja, 26, of Fawkner, pleaded guilty in the County Court to one count of culpable driving causing death and four counts of negligently causing serious injury.

The maximum penalty is 20 years' jail.

Prosecutor Georgina Coghlan said Khoja had music blaring from his CD player and was driving at 114km/h with one hand on the steering wheel on Lygon Street, Brunswick, at 2.40am on November 17, 2010, when he lost control and veered into a tram power pole.

The car almost split in half and the four people in the back seat were thrown from the 1999 Ford sedan. Nihil Patel, 22, was found dead when police arrived.

Three of the four passengers injured in the crash were not wearing seatbelts.

Ms Coghlan said Khoja, who had a blood alcohol content of between 0.088 and 0.108, told an ambulance paramedic after the accident: "I want to die. I should be the one who's dead."

She said Khoja should be jailed for up to 12 years because he was a taxi driver acutely aware of the road rules.

In her victim impact statement, Mr Patel's wife, Deepmala Jani, said his death had emotionally scarred her forever.

She said being a widow in her culture was regarded as a sin and she feared she would be on her own for the rest of her life.

Defence lawyer Michael Stanton said Khoja, who had been in Australia on a student visa, accepted he needed to be punished.

Mr Stanton said the case was another example of what happens when young men have too much alcohol and speed.

Khoja hoped being sent to jail would bring a small measure of peace to the victims and their families.

"He is genuinely racked by shame because of what he's done," Mr Stanton said.

"He has real insight, in my submission, into the misery he has inflicted."

Khoja had been due to return to India on the day of the accident to see his fiancee and help his mother run the family business, a guest house in the small village of Barpi.

Psychologist Rebecca Sullivan said Khoja suffered from post traumatic stress disorder and had expressed a sense of hopelessness and horror over the accident.

Khoja has nightmares where he sees images of the night his friend died.

Judge Mark Taft said he had handed down heavy sentences in the past in similar culpable driving cases because of the toll they had on the deceased's families.

The judge said many people in the community feared losing family members through the shocking driving of young offenders, and the fact Khoja was a taxi driver and had been driving on Lygon Street at high speed would have magnified those concerns.

He remanded Khoja for sentencing on a date to be fixed.

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