Father’s ‘anger’ at truck boss’s sentence

Simiona Tuteru has been sentenced for breaching his duty following a horror freeway crash that killed four police officers. Picture: NCA NewsWire / David Geraghty

The father of one of four police officers killed by a meth-affected driver believes Victoria’s justice system is “totally broken” after the driver’s boss walked free for his role in the “utterly tragic” case.

Standing outside Victoria’s Supreme Court on Wednesday, Andrew Prestney said he felt relief the four-year ordeal was finally over but also “anger, dismay, disillusionment and disappointment”.

“How is it that the national manager of this trucking company who was nearly 900km away in Sydney can get three years jail but the supervisor who was right on the spot and could have avoided this tragedy walks away with a slap on the wrist?” he said.

“How is it that a trial in Sydney on the same charges can go for five weeks, examine thousands of pieces of evidence over a seven-month period and interview dozens of witnesses but here in Victoria only a 48-hour period was examined.

“Our son and his colleagues deserve better but unfortunately this is Victoria where the system is totally broken.”

Andrew and Belinda Prestney, parents of Constable Josh Prestney, who died in the Eastern Freeway tragedy, described the sentence as a ‘slap on the wrist’ Picture: NCA Newswire / Nicki Connolly

His comments came as former Connect Logistics Victorian boss Simiona Tuteru was sentenced to a three-year community corrections order with 200 hours of unpaid community service.

The 52-year-old returned to court after pleading guilty to a single charge of failing to comply with a safety duty under the heavy vehicle national law.

By his plea, the father of five admitted that he recklessly exposed the four officers and others to the “risk of death or serious injury” by allowing truck driver Mohinder Singh to get behind the wheel.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - NCA NewsWire Photos - 06 MARCH, 2024: Former Connect Logistics supervisor Simonia Tuteru leaves Victoria's Supreme Court after he was sentenced to 200 hours of community service. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Liam Beatty
Simiona Tuteru declined to speak as he left court on Wednesday. Picture: NCA NewsWire/ Liam Beatty.

Leading Senior Constable Lynette Taylor, First Constable Glen Humphris, Senior Constable Kevin King and Constable Josh Prestney were killed after truck driver Mohinder Singh fell asleep at the wheel on April 22, 2020.

The four officers had pulled over a speeding Richard Pusey in the emergency lane of the Eastern Freeway when Singh’s 20-tonne truck crashed into their parked cars.

Handing down his sentence, Justice James Elliot said the “utterly tragic” outcome was demonstrative of the risk Tuteru had neglected on the day of the crash.

But he said Tuteru was not being sentenced for the deaths.

At a hearing last month, Singh, who is serving an 18 year and six month sentence, said Tuteru, a church pastor, had “prayed away” a witch’s curse he feared had been placed on him.

“I hadn’t had any sleep, I was seeing things … I thought I had been cursed by a witch,” he said.

“After that he basically said you’re right now … I just needed you to do one load and see how you feel after that.”

Supreme Court - Truck Shot
The court was told Mohinder Singh was haunted by the crash. Picture: NCA NewsWire / David Crosling

Justice Elliot said there was nothing to suggest Tuteru had any inkling Singh was unfit to drive until the day of the crash when he was warned by the supervisor from the night prior.

“You were plainly on notice that Singh had issues and they needed to be addressed,” he said.

“Your suggestion he do just one load does not suggest indifference.”

Justice Elliot said the prosecution had failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Singh had expressly stated to Tuteru that he had not slept.

He said Singh had been an unreliable witness and sought to shift the blame to Tuteru.

“While not disregarding or diminishing the horrific consequences of your decision … The facts do not demonstrate a grave example of this offence,” Justice Elliot told Tuteru.

CCTV footage captured Singh drifting across lanes minutes before the Eastern Freeway truck tragedy. Picture: Supreme Court of Victoria via NCA NewsWire
CCTV footage captured Singh drifting across lanes minutes before the Eastern Freeway truck tragedy. Picture: Supreme Court of Victoria via NCA NewsWire

The four officers were killed when Singh fell asleep at the wheel just half an hour into his shift at Kew.

Leading Senior Constable Taylor and First Constable Humphris had pulled over Pusey for driving his Porsche at 149km/h.

The two other officers arrived a short time later and were standing in an emergency lane when Singh’s truck crashed into all four officers at 5.36pm.

The crash was the single greatest loss of life in Victoria Police’s history, while Pusey survived because he was urinating on the side of the road and avoided being hit.

He was later jailed for 10 months after filming the dying officers.

Family of the police killed in the Eastern Freeway crash arrive at the Supreme Court. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Andrew Henshaw

In October 2022, prosecutors dropped four manslaughter charges against Tuteru just days before his trial was due to begin.

The case was permanently stayed by Justice Lex Lasry the following year. He found the court’s processes had been “oppressively” misused against the trucking boss.

This was later overturned on appeal in the Court of Appeal.

Connect Logistics national boss Cris Large was sentenced to three years imprisonment in January after he was found guilty of failing to fulfil his primary duty as an operator.

Large immediately launched an appeal against the conviction and the severity of the sentence, which will be heard in the NSW District Court later this year.

Leaving court with his barrister, David Hallowes SC, Tuteru did not respond to questions about the case.