DAMIEN Bullen has been found guilty of causing the crash that killed two teenage girls on a horror stretch of the New England Highway at Whittingham in 2015.
After a nearly two-year wait for justice, the families of Tori Earl, 18, and Kendall Burke, 19, told the Newcastle Herald the verdict was a “relief” and vindication that the crash wasn’t the fault of an “inexperienced driver”.
“It wasn’t the inexperienced p-plater that was to blame,” Melonie O’Brien, Ms Earl’s eldest sister, said outside court on Friday.
“She was the safest kid you’d ever meet.”
Bullen, 42, of Cameron Park, rear-ended Ms Earl’s Suzuki in the eastbound lanes of the New England Highway about 4.15pm on May 14, 2015, forcing her car into the path of an oncoming semi-trailer.
The crash occurred in a 100km/h zone and on a section of road just over a crest where the lanes suddenly merged from two to one.
Ms Earl and Ms Burke, who were living together at Singleton at the time, both died at the scene.
Ms Earl had passed her provisional driver’s licence test on the day of the crash.
“They weren’t just two kids in a car,” another family member said.
“They were in the prime of their life, these two girls.
“They were probably the happiest they had ever been and in the blink of an eye they were gone.”
Bullen had pleaded not guilty to negligent driving occasioning death and faced a hearing in Singleton Local Court in December.
But on Friday, with the public gallery of Maitland Local Court packed full of people wearing black “Justice for Tori and Kendall” shirts, Magistrate Ron Maiden came on the bench and quietly delivered his verdict.
As part of his published reasons, obtained by the Herald, Mr Maiden said Ms Earl began to slow down as her vehicle approached the merging section and had come “extremely close” to running into the vehicle in front of hers.
But Bullen had “failed to slow his vehicle sufficiently” and had impacted heavily with the rear of Ms Earl’s car.
Mr Maiden said due to her “evasive action to avoid a collision”, Ms Earl’s car had come to a stop pointing the incorrect way.
“I am satisfied given the distance involved that [Bullen] failed to observe and take appropriate steps to meet a potential hazard occurring on the road in front of him,” Mr Maiden said.
“I am satisfied [Bullen] breached the standard required of an ordinary prudent driver in the circumstances above and drove his vehicle negligently as alleged.”
Bullen will be sentenced in May. The stretch of road where the girls were killed has been “completely altered” since the crash.