Taxi attack brings jail time

JIMMY ELLINGHAM
Last updated 12:34 19/10/2012
Chhantra Trin and Leroi Cootes
MURRAY WILSON/Fairfax NZ
COWARDLY ASSAULT: The two men sentenced for attacking a taxi driver are Chhantra Trin [front] and Leroi Cootes.

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Two Palmerston North men who attacked a taxi driver by punching him and cutting him with a pair of scissors have been jailed for their "cowardly assault", which came about because of "youth, stupidity and bourbon".

Both Leroi James Cootes, 20, unemployed, and powder coater Chhantra Trin, 21, were yesterday sentenced to three years' jail for assault with intent to rob.

The taxi driver they attacked was now scared to work at night, which substantially affected his income, Palmerston North District Court was told.

At 11pm on August 11, an intoxicated Cootes and Trin called a taxi from the house where they were drinking and asked to be dropped off near the corner of College St and Botanical Rd.

Cootes got into the passenger seat and Trin sat behind the driver.

Cootes told the driver to drop them off in Botanical Rd, the less busy of the two roads, Judge Gerard Lynch said.

"Once stopped, Cootes handed his eftpos card to the driver. As the driver began to process the transaction, Trin put [his] arms around the driver's neck. [He] was holding a pair of scissors.

"As the driver leant forward, trying to protect himself, Trin tried to stab the driver behind his right ear with the scissors."

At the same time, Cootes was punching the driver about the head and body. Both the attackers were demanding money as the driver made vain attempts to honk his horn to attract attention.

Cootes and Trin then pulled the driver from his car on to the ground outside, where he was kicked.

Another taxi went past and the two attackers fled the scene without any of the cash, leaving the driver with a cut behind his left ear, a cut and swollen lip, a damaged little finger and other bruising.

The driver came to New Zealand in 2000, has a PhD and works two jobs.

"He's a man with a good work ethic . . . He was traumatised by this attack. He said he pleaded with the two of you to stop, telling you he would give you the money, but you still carried on assaulting him," Judge Lynch told Cootes and Trin.

The judge noted the pair's remorse, early guilty pleas and willingness to apologise for what happened.

He recognised that Trin had worked for three or four years and could be productive, but said what he did amounted to a "cowardly assault".

In contrast, Cootes was a young man who lacked direction, however, he received credit for taking full responsibility for the attack despite not brandishing the scissors.

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"Unlike the victim, who has two jobs, you did not have even one," Judge Lynch told Cootes.

Trin's lawyer, Jacinda Younger, said her client was extremely drunk on the night in question, having broken up with his girlfriend.

"His family are extremely ashamed of him and his actions."

While acknowledging it was a "long shot", Younger tried to persuade the judge that a home detention sentence might be appropriate.

She described the attack as a "moment of madness".

Trin and Cootes had planned to rob a taxi driver so they could buy more alcohol. When they first called for a taxi to pick them up, they didn't get into it when it arrived, having "chickened out", Younger said.

Coote's lawyer, Steve Winter, said what happened was a combination of "youth, stupidity and bourbon".

"The overall impression of Cootes is he's struggling to think how he got himself into this situation," Winter said.

Crown prosecutor Daniel Flinn told the court the attack had left the taxi driver in constant fear when he was at work, and he had missed days because of what happened.

- Manawatu Standard

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