Five Rocks camping tragedy tears families apart
IT WAS meant to be a normal weekend camping trip at Five Rocks, but it ended in a tragedy that tore the lives of Yeppoon residents apart.
Mitchell James Hawkins, 23, was sentenced today to two years and nine months' jail on one count of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle and one of having a vehicle in a restricted area of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, after the tragic crash that killed 16-year-old Hannah Dingle in 2017.
Defence barrister Ross Lo Monaco said Hawkins had gone to Five Rocks about once a month for four years, starting off with friends he made at Cat equipment dealer Hastings Deering.
The court heard Hawkins travelled to Five Rocks on November 25, 2017 after stopping to buy a carton of rum and cola.
He arrived at the popular beachside camping site about 5.30pm.
After setting up camp and socialising for a few hours, Hawkins started driving friends along the beach.
At one stage, he caught up with another vehicle and overtook it, while an intoxicated male slept in his back seat and Hannah was in the front passenger seat.
Judge Michael Burnett said Hawkins was travelling at 70km/h when his car hit contours in the beach, making the vehicle bump many times before it became airborne on about the fifth contour, landed nose first into the next contour and rolled on to its side.
Judge Burnett said that while the car was airborne, Hawkins could be seen moving around in the vehicle.
Mr Lo Monaco said Hawkins' sister was in the other vehicle.
"She was pretty much the first on the scene," he said.
"She assisted in moving Hannah from the cabin of the vehicle. She is very traumatised as well."
Emergency services were called to Stockyard Point, near Five Rocks, at 11.20pm to attend the crash.
The court heard Hawkins first spoke with police in hospital at 3.50am and he gave a blood sample at 4.40am.
It returned zero for alcohol.
He spoke with police again later that day and admitted making illegal modifications to his car.
He had raised its suspension and removed the front sway bar a month prior to the crash.
"It was set up for slow off-road use, not high-speed off-road use," Judge Burnett said.
"Regulations are not there to be humbugged.
"They are there to ensure the safety of road users."
The court heard Hawkins had spoken with Hannah's father days after the crash at the father's request.
Judge Burnett said the impact statements from Hannah's parents talked about how their worlds were torn apart because of their only child's death.
The court heard Hawkins' mother visited Hannah's mother just prior to Christmas, taking flowers.
Mrs Hawkins was seen crying outside court after her son was ordered to serve eight months of a two year and nine month prison term with an operational period of five years.
He was also disqualified from driving "absolutely", meaning he will have to apply to have the disqualification removed.
Mr Lo Monaco said Hawkins went to Hannah's funeral, had been in counselling, set up a Go Fund Me account with friends that had raised $24,617 for Hannah's family and not been back to Five Rocks.
"The reality is your life has been significantly destroyed or ruined," Judge Burnett said.