Driver spared jail over fatal school crash

·3-min read

A widow who crashed her four-wheel drive into a Sydney primary school classroom killing two boys in a "freakish accident" has been spared a jail sentence.

Maha Al-Shennag pressed the accelerator instead of the brake after momentarily taking her eyes off the road when a water bottle fell into the footwell.

She had driven her Toyota Kluger into the carpark before ploughing into a classroom at Banksia Road Public School in Greenacre in November 2017.

The two boys died after becoming trapped under the car, while three other children were injured.

The mother of four pleaded guilty to two counts of dangerous driving causing death and three charges relating to the injured pupils.

In the District Court on Tuesday, Judge Stephen Hanley sentenced her for three years to be served by way of an intensive correction order with conditions including carrying out 400 hours of community work.

She was also sentenced to two concurrent community corrections orders, one for a year and the other for two years, with conditions including 100 hours community service.

He assessed her moral culpability at "towards the lowest end" for such offences, describing the crash as "a freakish accident".

"The circumstances of this offence are truly tragic," he said.

She had bent down to pick up the water bottle before the repositioning of her body led to her pressing the accelerator instead of the brake.

When that failed to work, she pressed the wrong pedal down further before the Kluger mounted the kerb, became airborne and crashed into the classroom containing a relief teacher and about 23 students.

Rescuers were confronted with screaming children and widespread debris.

In her evidence, Al-Shennag insisted she had applied the brake and said the accident must have been caused by a mechanical failure.

The judge found she was genuinely remorseful and accepted responsibility.

But he found she had considerable difficulty in coming to terms with the tragic consequences of her actions and may have created a scenario to try to deal with it.

Victim impact statements had referred to the enormity of the families' losses.

One of the dead boy's families did not want her jailed over a "very tragic accident".

Many testimonials, including a group reference by all her neighbours, spoke very highly of her, describing her volunteer and charity work.

Judge Hanley referred to the long delay in the case through no fault of Al-Shennag.

Prosecutors originally accused her of manslaughter, a charge deemed inappropriate by the judge, and had not accepted her very early offer to plead guilty to the driving matters.

Reports referred to her mental and physical health issues, noting she had become a recluse, was consumed by guilt and said she would never forgive herself.

The judge was satisfied "she requires no further rehabilitation" and posed no danger to the community.

"I would be surprised if she ever re-offends."

If she ever drove again, he was satisfied she would do so in a way consistent with her previous excellent 19-year record which only contained one matter of not wearing a seatbelt.

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