Mum weeps as fine doubled for stealing pilot's identity
A mother of two who stole the identity of the pilot killed in the Sea World helicopter tragedy in a bid to dodge a traffic ticket has had her fine doubled in court.
Stephanie Louise Bennett wept as she pleaded guilty to fraud by dishonestly inducing a person to act and one count of obtaining or dealing with another's identity to commit an indictable offence in Beenleigh Magistrates Court on Friday.
Outside court, Bennett sobbed quietly as her lawyer apologised for the distress and hurt she inflicted on the pilot's grieving family.
The 33-year-old confessed to using Ash Jenkinson's identity after she was caught using her mobile phone behind the wheel on December 15.
It wasn't the first time Bennett had been caught on her mobile while driving, but this time she could not afford the $1078 fine and the four demerit points she faced meant she would lose her licence.
Bennett had been desperate to get her life on track and pay down a debt she already owed to the State Penalties Enforcement Registry.
She had just started a new job as a forklift driver at a warehouse and she feared she would lose her job without a licence.
So she scoured the obituary notices to pin the fine on another driver.
After several attempts to nominate other drivers failed, she chose the details belonging to Ashley Jenkinson.
She filled out his name and date of birth and created a fake address.
Bennett had never met Mr Jenkinson or his partner Kosha Richardson and his name didn't ring a bell with her.
According to her lawyer Zane Chapman, Bennett didn't pay much attention to the news.
His client had no idea Mr Jenkinson was a pilot who had been killed when two Sea World helicopters collided midair on January 2 and was oblivious to the widespread publicity surrounding the tragedy.
"She has nominated someone online ... it was quite easy to do," Mr Chapman said.
"That is in no way to diminish my client's conduct ... what she has done is dishonest and she is remorseful.
"There is no excuse for her conduct."
Mr Chapman said Bennett was deeply embarrassed and had been subjected to enormous public humiliation.
"Her name and face have been all over the media and on Facebook. You Google her and she comes up."
Magistrate Mark Howden acknowledged Bennett had made a "grave mistake", one that would have been deeply distressing to Mr Jenkinson's grieving family who reported the identity theft, but declined to give a victim impact statement.
Bennett choked back tears as the magistrate said her deception "struck at the heart of the justice system".
"I accept that you have been publicly humiliated at work among friends and acquaintances," Mr Howden said.
"And I accept that that humiliation is in all likelihood ongoing ... there will be an impact on your social wellbeing - clearly there already has been."
Bennett was fined $2000 - almost double the original fine - and a conviction was recorded.
Outside the court, Mr Chapman apologised on behalf of his client, who disguised her face in a scarf and glasses.
"She wishes to express her sincerest apologies to the families, specifically to anyone she's hurt," Mr Chapman said.
"She is quite distressed. She is extremely remorseful and she's absolutely so sorry for what she's done."