Victorian dad Christopher Browne should have been making happy memories with his two-year-old son Lincoln on Christmas Day 2020.
Instead an adventure on an all-terrain vehicle ended in tragedy when Browne was performing doughnuts, causing the buggy to roll.
Lincoln was thrown, crushed by the roll bar and suffered fatal injuries.
Father and son weren't wearing seatbelts, and the buggy was overloaded with three passengers - including Browne's sister - instead of two.
Mourning his little boy, the then-31-year-old was charged over the death.
He now looks set to avoid prison for his dangerous actions, but could be handed a hefty amount of community work over several years.
Judge Michael Cahill found his moral culpability for the incident was high and the offence was in the mid-range in terms of the gravity of offending.
Prosecutors called for jail time for Browne, who has another child.
In a similar case another father was sentenced to more than three years behind bars and an appeal on the grounds that it was manifestly excessive was refused.
But Judge Cahill told prosecutors on Thursday he would have Browne assessed for an order, with a plan to place him on one instead of sending him to jail.
"He has suffered severe symptoms of PTSD as a consequence of him having caused the death of his son," the judge said.
His lawyers argued that would make prison substantially more onerous.
Browne, who appeared by video link from court in Wodonga, sometimes appeared overwhelmed, the judge noted.
"At times, the only thing that keeps him going is his responsibility to take care of his wife and their younger child," Judge Cahill said.
But he acknowledged serious aggravating features in the offending.
Browne admitted deliberately doing burnouts in the ATV with his sister in the passenger seat and his son on his lap.
"She's my sister and ... I wanted to try and scare her," he said.
His sister wore her seatbelt. Browne sat on top of his seatbelt, which was plugged in, overriding a safety feature that limits the vehicle to 20km/h if the driver's seatbelt isn't used.
Browne pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing death and conduct endangering persons.
His lawyer Tom Danos said the self-employed builder was still managing to run his own business and helping to run three others, but found it a struggle.
Browne has also contributed to the local soccer club, financially and as a coach for an under 12s team, Mr Danos said, highlighting his client's contributions to his community.
He sold the buggy and has no intention of replacing it.
Prosecutor Erin Ramsay said it was unusual for a case with high moral culpability to result in a corrections order and there should be a significant period of unpaid community work.
Browne will be sentenced on August 11.