Sydney mother who plowed her 4WD into a school classroom and killed two children is saved from prison
A widow who crashed her four-wheel drive into a Sydney classroom, killing two boys in a ‘horrific accident’, has escaped prison after one of the victim’s families pleaded not to be sent to jail.
Maha Al-Shennag, 56, stepped on the accelerator instead of the brake after taking her eyes off the road for a moment when a water bottle fell into the footwell while dropping her son off at a Greenacre school in southwestern Sydney in November 2017.
The charity worker had driven her Toyota Kluger into the parking lot of the Banksia Road Public School before plowing into a classroom.
Jihad Darwiche, 8, and classmate Andrew Encinas, 9, died after being trapped under the car, while three other children were injured.
The mother of four pleaded guilty to two counts of dangerous driving resulting in death and three charges related to the injured students.
Judge Stephen Hanley sentenced her in court on Tuesday to three years in prison with an intensive correction, including 400 hours of community service.
The Darwiche family urged the judge not to consider jail time for Al-Shennag as her four children would be left without a parent to care for them.
Maha Al-Shennag (pictured) avoided jail time when she was convicted Tuesday of two counts of dangerous driving, resulting in death
Al-Shennag was also sentenced to two simultaneous community corrections, one for one year and the other for two years, with terms including 100 hours of community service.
The judge rated her moral culpability “to the lowest point” for such violations and described the crash as “a freak accident.”
“The circumstances of this crime are truly tragic,” he said.
Victim statements referred to the sheer magnitude of the boys’ heartbreaking losses by the families.
The court heard that the Darwiche family did not want Al-Shennag to be jailed for the “very tragic accident” when her four children lost their father in 2016.
Al-Shennag collapsed on sentencing when the judge said the Darwiche family expressed forgiveness and support in the days following Jihad’s death.
Banksia Road Public School students Jihad Darwich, 8, and Andrew Encinas, 9, (both pictured) died of multiple injuries
Raede Darwiche broadcast a message at his son’s funeral, calling on the community to rally behind Al-Shennag.
Video filmed from the hearse posted to Facebook shows Jihad’s father speaking in Arabic while his son’s green coffin – draped in a black and gold cloth – lies in the back of the vehicle.
‘Allah has called his boy, he… [the father] is very happy,” family friend Ahmad Hraichie translated at the time.
“The father says all the threats against this lady, the abuse, are not theirs.
“There will be no reprisals from the boy’s family. They have forgiven – if anything, they want to sit with this lady and tell her we forgive you.
Mr Darwiche told the court earlier this year that he and his wife… Al-Shennag pardoned for the ‘shocking tragedy’.
‘She has four children, whom I don’t want to grow up without a mother. If there was another option available, my wife and I don’t want Maha to go to jail,” he told the court.
“Maha has enough pain and suffering in her life. Sending her to jail won’t bring our son back.’
Raede Darwiche (pictured second right at Andrew Encinas’ funeral) begged the judge not to give the driver a jail sentence. His son Jihad also died in the tragedy
Al-Shennag had bent over to pick up the water bottle before the repositioning of her body caused her to press the accelerator instead of the brake.
When that didn’t work, she pushed the wrong pedal further before the Kluger climbed the curb, became airborne and crashed into the classroom with an assistant teacher and about 23 students.
Rescue workers were confronted by 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 that she sincerely repented and took responsibility.
But he found that she was having a lot of trouble coming to terms with the tragic consequences of her actions and that she may have come up with a scenario to deal with it.
Jihad Darwiche, 8, and classmate Andrew Encinas, 9 died after a car crashed into a classroom at Banksia Road Public School in 2017. Pictured are tribute to the Greenacre school after the tragedy
Many testimonials, including a group reference by all her neighbors, spoke highly of her and described her volunteer and charitable work.
Judge Hanley referred to the long delay in the case through no fault of Al-Shennag.
Prosecutors originally charged her with manslaughter, a charge deemed inappropriate by the judge, and had not accepted her very early offer to plead guilty to the driving cases.
Reports referred to her mental and physical health issues, noting that she had become a recluse, consumed with guilt and said she would never forgive herself.
“I believe the guilt and self-blame my mother feels every day is greater than any prison sentence – and she will never forgive herself,” Al-Shennag’s adult daughter wrote in a letter to the court, the Daily Telegraph reported. .
The judge was convinced she posed no danger to the community.
“She needs no further rehabilitation, except to help her with her grief and remorse,” added Judge Hanley.
“I’d be surprised if she ever repeats.”
If she ever drove again, he was confident she would do so in a way consistent with her previous outstanding 19-year record, which included just one issue of not wearing a seat belt.
Maha Al-Shennag (pictured left during a previous trial) was given a three-year sentence to serve in the community