Rebekah Stewart loses appeal to have sentence reduced

UPDATE, MARCH 7: Rebekah Stewart has lost her appeal to have her jail sentence reduced after leaving cyclist Christian Ashby to die almost two years ago.

Stewart’s appeal was finalised in the Victorian Court of Appeal on Thursday, where her appeal was dismissed.

Her sentence of six years' jail, with a non-parole period of four years, will remain as initially handed down in April, 2017.

The Office of Public Prosecutions did not initially lodge an appeal against the sentence.

How did Christian react?

Christian Ashby would give anything to have his life back the way it was prior to being struck in a hit-and-run by Rebekah Stewart.

But the former triathlete and father of two is not dwelling on his own life sentence and is looking to give something back to road trauma victims.

Stewart yesterday failed in her bid to have her own sentence reduced over the Good Friday 2016 incident near Lake Wendouree which left Mr Ashby with permanent injuries.

Last April, Stewart was sentenced to six years, with a minimum of four, after pleading guilty to charges including dangerous driving causing serious injury and failure to stop after an accident. 

She appealed the severity of the sentence on the basis that Mr Ashby did not die, but it was thrown out by Supreme Court of Appeal judges Mark Weinberg and Paul Coghlan. 

The judges found the initial sentence handed out was if anything “favourable to the appellant”.

“We are not satisfied that the individual sentences ... is outside the available range,” the judges said.

Mr Ashby has since gone through 12 operations, with more to come, to try and repair the damage to his kidneys, leg, left hand, spine and hip. He was left with permanent scarring. 

His left hand is permanently deformed. He will never be able to run or jog again and can no longer do anything that requires fine motor skills. He is in constant chronic pain and requires ongoing and consistent medical and rehabilitative treatment.

Mr Ashby who spoke to The Courier after the verdict was known, said he had been nervous that the sentence would be reduced.

“It was a bit of a worry today as I know of at least 10 hit-and-run cases which are before the courts in the coming year and a reduced sentence would have set a precedent,” Mr Ashby said.

“My life has totally changed. Before the accident it was all about work and sport, but now I look at life differently.

“It’s become a real passion of mine now to help victims of road trauma. When I was in rehab there were times when you’d be sitting there wondering what was happening to you.

“While the specialists and those that care for you do a wonderful job, you just can’t replace the knowledge of someone who has been through what you’re going through. Sometimes you just want to have a chat to someone and if I can do volunteer and do something to help others, that’s the least I can do.”

Mr Ashby said he hoped Stewart would learn from her mistakes and eventually be able to make a life for herself where she was a valued member of the community.

JANUARY 16: A drug-affected Victorian woman who crashed into a cyclist and left him for dead wants a shorter sentence because her victim didn't die.

Rebekah Stewart's lawyer argued in the Victorian Court of Appeal on Tuesday that her victim, Christian Ashby, didn't die, so her sentence should be reduced.

Stewart was affected by the drug ice when she veered on to the wrong side of the road and hit the cyclist head-on in Ballarat on Good Friday in 2016.

Mr Ashby, who had been out for a morning bike ride, slid up over the windscreen before he was left bleeding on the road.

Meanwhile, Stewart fled home to take the bonnet off her car and hide her vehicle under a tarpaulin.

Stewart was sentenced to six years' jail in April 2017 with a non-parole period of four years after pleading guilty to dangerous driving causing serious injury and failing to stop.

But her lawyer Richard Edney says the length of her sentence is "manifestly excessive".

"Six years and four years is more a sentence where someone has died," Mr Edney said.

Mr Ashby required 10 major operations, and now suffers chronic pain and disabilities.

Justice Mark Weinberg described Mr Ashby's injuries as "long-lasting" and "permanent", with Stewart's actions having caused "destruction of quality of life".

"Some injuries are so catastrophic from the victim's perspective that they think about whether they would have been better off dying," he said.

WATCH CHRISTIAN ASHBY ADDRESS THE MEDIA OUTSIDE COURT LAST YEAR

​Mr Edney said Stewart admitted to using ice the night before the crash but was not tested for substance use because of the delay between her offending and her arrest.

He argued the admission was a "powerful mitigating factor".

But Justice Paul Coghlan disagreed.

"The fact she was on ice aggravates the matter," he said.

"The fact she admits using ice goes in part to showing her remorse but I don't see how it could be a mitigating factor."

Mr Edney also argued Stewart had rehabilitated herself, having been an in- patient at a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre and covering off 34 sessions.

"She's done everything since her offending to make good."

But Justice Weinberg said it "doesn't get much worse in terms of dangerous driving" given Stewart had been high on ice, had driven on the other side of the road, was driving was disqualified and while on a suspended sentence.

The court reserved its decision to be delivered at a future date.

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