A taxi driver was jailed today for a maximum of nine years and six months for killing a drunken passenger by driving into him on a Port Melbourne street.
Rajbinder Singh Shahi, 30, who was found not guilty by a Supreme Court jury of murder but guilty of manslaughter, traded abuse with Xavier Salmon before the incident.
The jury heard Mr Salmon was one of 11 passengers aged in their teens picked up by Shahi in his maxicab in Melbourne’s CBD after midnight on December 12, 2005.
In his sentencing today, Justice Bernard Teague said Shahi ordered the group out of the taxi after one was found smoking, but he relented when told they were sorry and would stop.
Justice Teague said on the way to Port Melbourne there was an incident involving the Australian cricketer Shane Warne.
He told Shahi: “In the midst of some rowdy but generally good-natured banter, one of your passengers asked him (Warne) where his wife was.
“A number of the young men, including Xavier Salmon, were adversely affected by the alcohol they had consumed.
“More than one of them were drinking in the taxi and had stubbies in their hands.
“You had little choice but to put up with their rowdiness.”
When the passengers left the taxi, and as one paid the fare, Mr Salmon and another young man abused Shahi, who traded abuse and shouted at them as he drove off in Centre Avenue.
Justice Teague said there was conflicting evidence about which way Shahi then drove to re-enter Centre Road.
But he said once Shahi was facing south in Centre Avenue, he was heading towards Mr Salmon, who had “aroused your anger”.
The judge said: “A short time later, you had him in front of your taxi. He was one to two metres out from the kerb.
“He chose not to move out of your path. You chose not to swerve to avoid him. You chose to accelerate, not to break.
“You struck him with the left front of the taxi.”
Shahi did not stop, but shortly after he reported damage to the taxi to police and later admitted he may have hit someone.
Justice Teague referred to nine victim impact statements, including one from Shahi’s estranged wife, and six of the teenagers, and noted that the “emotional drain on anyone reading the statements is substantial”.
But he added: “It is nothing compared to the emotional impact, past and continuing on all nine, but particularly the two parents.”
He took into account mitigating circumstances that included Shahi’s lack of prior convictions, and his offer, which the prosecution rejected, to plead guilty to manslaughter before the trial.
Justice Teague, who found Shahi’s prospects for rehabilitation were high, sentenced him to maximum of nine years and six months jail, with a minimum of six years.
The sentence included terms imposed for counts of threat to kill his child and a threat to inflict serious injury to his wife, made after Shahi’s arrest in phone calls from prison.
Steve Butcher (The Age)
September 4, 2007 – 12:22PM