Four-time drink-driver gran 'distraught'

BY MICHAEL FORBES AND KAY BLUNDELL
Last updated 05:00 04/02/2010
Alison Downer
WARWICK SMITH /Manawatu Standard
JAILED: Drunk driver Alison Downer in the dock of a Palmerston North courtroom where she was given a jail sentence for the death of cyclist Frank van Kampen.

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Supporters of Alison Downer, jailed yesterday for more than two years for the drink-drive death of a cyclist, say the 71-year-old will struggle to cope in prison.

Downer, an alcoholic from Te Horo, was yesterday banned from driving for eight years for what was her fourth drink-driving conviction since 1991. She had twice blown almost three times the legal breath-alcohol limit.

Frank van Kampen, 46, a teacher who had just become a father, died when he was struck from behind by Downer as he cycled on State Highway 1 in Te Horo on September 18.

The van Kampen family said Downer's previous convictions proved a lack of remorse. However, her friends said she was "distraught" and "hurting".

She was battling alcohol addiction and was getting her life back on track before it all went wrong, one neighbour said. "I know she did not choose to go out there and cause this accident." Although she was strong, jail would test her.

Mr van Kampen's partner, Jude Pouwels, wept through yesterday's hearing at Palmerston North District Court and said last night that she was disgusted by the sentence.

"They say that with age, comes wisdom, but with this defendant, only comes more alcohol. She thinks she is above the law but is actually a danger to the public."

Although Judge Les Atkins ordered Downer to pay $30,000 reparation to Mr van Kampen's family, Ms Pouwels said she did not want the money and it would go into a trust for her children.

She believed the Downer family should pay for her children's upbringing. Mr van Kampen's stepson, Dante, is 13, and the couple had a daughter, Alexandra, now six months old. Ms Pouwel's former partner, Dante's father, died five years ago from cancer.

"It is appalling. Two and half years is not justice for Frank's life. It is not sending a clear message to drink-drivers, it is not a deterrent to anybody.

"I have lost everything. I feel the Downer family should do the right thing by my children."

Judge Atkins said Downer had left her Te Horo home at 4.30pm after consuming "a quantity of wine" throughout the day.

Downer's problems with alcohol, coupled with an unhappy marriage after the death of her two-year-old daughter had isolated her from her family, Judge Atkins said.

"You have been the victim of violence in the past ... you were diagnosed with depression 30 years ago, you have been a binge-drinker since you were 48."

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Downer has been treated for alcoholism at several institutions around the country, including Ashburn Hall and Hanmer Springs.

Crown prosecutor Paul Murray said Downer was nearly twice the legal breath-alcohol limit.

Downer's lawyer, Sandy Baigent, said her client had offered $30,000 emotional harm reparation and there was a lack of multiple victims meaning a more lenient jail sentence was appropriate.

She did not know if Downer would seek rehabilitation for her alcohol abuse while behind bars.

Mr van Kampen's close friend and cycling buddy Ron Chatters believed Downer should have faced a manslaughter charge.

"How can you go out and kill someone and it not be manslaughter? As the law stands she can reapply for her licence, it is bloody ridiculous."

- The Dominion Post

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