An inattentive truck driver has been jailed for more than two years after killing a "superhero" father and respected serviceman in a crash just outside the ACT.
Darren Sansom, 48, pleaded guilty last year to dangerous driving causing death, after being behind the wheel of a truck when it veered into the breakdown lane on the Federal Highway near Sutton.
The truck hit and killed off-duty New Zealand Army officer Major Aaron Couchman, who had been cycling in the breakdown lane.
Sansom appeared in the Queanbeyan District Court on Monday, when Judge Laura Wells sentenced him to two years and three months behind bars.
Judge Wells said that when the crash happened on February 9 last year, Sansom was believed to be travelling below the speed limit at about 96 kilometres an hour.
She said Sansom had failed to keep watch as he drove. Had Sansom done so, he would have had an unobstructed view of Major Couchman for about 20 seconds before the collision.
"Twenty seconds, or even a substantial proportion of that time, is a long time not to notice what is going on on the road ahead," Judge Wells said.
Judge Wells said the cause of Sansom's inattention was still not entirely clear.
She said Sansom had received bad news about the health of one of his children the night before the incident and had not slept well. Sansom also told police that shortly before veering into Major Couchman, he had felt "fuzzy" and as if he was "fighting the truck" while a "strong wind" blew into his face through an open window.
But Sansom denied falling victim to any particular distraction, blackout or microsleep, and "could provide no explanation" for his failure to see Major Couchman until it was too late to avoid the collision.
Judge Wells said there was no evidence that Sansom applied the brakes until after the impact, though he had swerved sharply to the right at the last moment in a failed effort to miss the victim.
She said there was no doubt that since the incident, Sansom had demonstrated sincere and "quite debilitating" remorse. Sansom now suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and survivor's guilt, often re-living the crash through flashbacks, dreams and ringing in his ears.
The judge said Sansom had not been speeding, using a mobile phone, or under the influence of alcohol or illicit drugs. Sansom was also a man of prior good character who had not intended to cause the crash.
Judge Wells said while factors like these had a mitigating impact on Sansom's sentence, it was crucial to consider the "dire consequences" suffered by Major Couchman and his family.
Major Couchman's daughter, Kaitlyn, told the court in a victim impact statement that her father had been a "superhero" to her. She described him as a selfless and committed family man who had always been her protector and "a place of no judgement".
Major Couchman's widow, Rachel, remembered her husband as a generous, hard-working and highly respected man. She said he had a great sense of duty to his country and would always make time to take younger members of the military under his wing and mentor them. Mrs Couchman said she felt deep sadness and anger about the situation her family was now in, but she did not hate Sansom and hoped he could rebuild his life.
Major Couchman had been living in Canberra on an army posting prior to his death.
Judge Wells said that ultimately, the tragic consequences of the offence were too serious to sentence Sansom to anything other than full-time imprisonment.
She said Sansom's failure as a driver amounted to more than momentary inattention, and it was important to impose a sentence that deterred others from being careless or casual behind the wheel.
As Sansom was handcuffed and led away to begin his sentence, he turned and told a number of family members in the public gallery that he loved them.
He will be eligible for parole after serving one year in jail.