Benjamin Patrick Trip started the 18th of July 2011 in a good mood.
Prior to his appearance at the North Shore District Court on charges relating to driving his silver BMW through the window of Art By The Sea at high speed at 3:45 in the morning of 29 October 2010, he walked with a bit of a swagger. He could even be heard outside the court joking with his girlfriend about previous car accidents in which the two of them had been involved and from which they had escaped either injury, conviction or both.
Dressed in the standard petrol head uniform of black dress trousers and black shirt and just shy of 6 foot, he looked older than his 21 years. As he faced up to the prosecuting police sergeant during his cross examination, one could detect more than a hint of arrogance – and certainly little respect – for the senior police officer.
Sure, he already had two DICs collected when he was 18 and 19, but as he earnestly explained to the court, the circumstances around these had been “unlucky.”
It wasn’t until the Judge, his sleepy demeanour belying a formidable intellect founded upon 26 years of experience, said “Mr Trip, it’s time you had a reality check” that Trip began to realise his life was about to change.
I glanced at Trip at this point, and the change in his expression said it all.
It was late in the day, and getting dark. He had been at court since 10:00am. His girlfriend had left, and apart from a Navy liaison officer who was there to make sure he didn’t incriminate the Navy, he had no other supporters. For some reason his lawyer, despite the ominous direction the Judge’s summing up was taking for her client, seemed to be amused by his comments.
Just prior to the trial, Trip had pleaded guilty to the charge of careless driving. However, he maintained his not guilty plea to the more serious DIC (drunk in charge of a motor vehicle) charge, claiming the period of time that had elapsed between the incident and the blood and breath tests created special circumstances, for which he had concocted a semi-believable story. If it were believed, it would likely get him off the DIC, allow him to retain his license while potentially ducking some of the significant insurance costs that were looming on the horizon.
The Judge took about 2 seconds to blow a hole in that defence, reminding the lawyer that such circumstances could not be used to determine liability, only level of sentencing.
So within about 2 minutes of taking the stand, Trip found himself pleading guilty to the second and much more serious DIC charge. He was so taken aback he had to ask his lawyer what his plea was, although I have to say, I can’t believe his lawyer honestly thought she’d slip that past the Judge.
But then the crucial discussion of the special circumstances began. If Trip could pull this off, he would have dodged a bullet. If he didn’t, a cascade of Very Bad Things would come crashing down around his ears.
The 29th of October had been a long day for Ben Trip. He had worked a full day at the Navy base in his job as electronics technician and he and his mates were up for a big night out. After work, he went back to his room at the base, got changed and went ashore (left the naval base) at 6pm with some mates in his car. First stop was a friend’s house where they stayed until 11pm, where he had “one beer.” The group he was with then made a decision to go to Ferguson’s Bar in Albany where they stayed for around 3-3.5 hours. At Ferguson’s he had “one beer” and a couple of red bulls. They played some pool and did a bit of dancing. They left Ferguson’s about 2am, with his friend driving his car because, as he claimed, “I was quite tired.”
They got back to the base and parked the car. Trip went to his room, but had a sudden desire for a packet of cigarettes. He returned to his car and drove out of the base about 0300, chatting briefly to the security guard before driving along King Edward Parade to Queens Parade, where he attempted to turn into Church Rd.
However, he was, according to his account, driving “a bit fast.” Consequently, he missed the corner and ended up smashing through the side window of Art By The Sea at high speed, in what the Judge described as a “spectacular” crash. He managed to get almost the entire car inside the shop, severing a steel support pole on the way, damaging the shop and destroying $25k worth of art. Incredibly, some of the works had been sent up to Art By The Sea from Christchurch after the first earthquake for safe-keeping.
Claiming he panicked because the alarm in the building went off and because he had been “previously on a thin line with the Navy” (sic) and thought he would lose his job, he reversed out of the shop and attempted to drive the badly damaged car up Church St.
This is where the story turns almost comical. Trip’s BMW was now missing one of its front tyres. Consequently, he was driving up Church St, not only causing a terrible cacophony, but more significantly leaving a very deep and noticeable scar in the tar seal from his wheel rim. He got 1.5kms up the road before giving up, while leaving a convenient and very obvious trail for the Police to follow.
Realising things were going from bad to worse, he abandoned the car, leaving behind all his ID and his wallet, but remembering to take his mobile phone and half a bottle of vodka. He then ran to the golf course, spiriting himself away under a bridge and knocked back the rest of the vodka, presumably to ensure his decision-making remained impeccably idiotic.
After 90-odd minutes in the golf course, he decided to head back to the base where he found the Police, who having recovered his ID from his car, were patiently waiting for him. The time was now 0530am.
He was initially breath-tested at 0548am, and failed. He then failed the evidential breath test at 0615am and the blood sample taken at 0657am. The result was 120mg.
Having dug himself into a hole so deep base jumpers were showing interest, Trip continued to dig. He refused to answer any questions, which was of course absolutely his right, but probably not the best decision in the circumstances.
This decision was of particular significance in regard to the bottle of vodka; if indeed he had failed the breath and blood tests because of alcohol he had drunk after the crash, he should have let the Police know there was an important piece of evidence under a bridge somewhere in the golf course. But given the trail of idiocy and destruction he had left behind him that night, it was unlikely Trip was about to make his first sensible decision. And he didn’t.
Seated in Court 3 10 months later, and having related this entertaining sequence of events to the Court, Trip somehow managed to maintain his diffident demeanour.
Returning from the witness stand to the seat near his lawyer, one suspected he thought he had a chance.
Then the Judge’s words, and the verdict. Trip’s expression initially changed to almost innocent surprise. Then hurt disbelief. Then shock. He visibly shrank. His lawyer unhelpfully giggled beside him while the Judge recounted some of the more risible elements of Trip’s defence. Trip glared at her, disbelievingly.
Then it was over. He was guilty. Of everything. Prior to his sentencing, he had to endure the victim impact statement, read out by Art By The Sea’s Mike Geers.
Trip was disqualified from driving indefinitely, and would not regain his license (which he would have to re-sit) until he had successfully completed an alcohol assessment course run by the Ministry of Transport. He would also have to participate in a treatment course for alcoholics. He had 145 hours of community service to perform, and fines to pay – primarily the excess on Art By The Sea’s insurance policy.
Then the cascade of Very Bad Things pulled up the seat next to him and slapped him cheerfully on the shoulder, waving a potential Court Martial, loss of his job and career, and litigation and insurance damages of tens of thousands of dollars. Benjamin Patrick Trip gazed wildly around the Court, momentarily disorientated and bewildered.
As the Court emptied and the figure of Trip – last seen staring disbelievingly at the receding figure of the Judge – was finally lost among the others bustling to get out and get on with their still intact lives, The Speculator reflected on the day’s events. It had been a long day, with numerous delays and postponements, having to sit through the sobering details of other cases, and watching many of the lawyers and the Police struggle to perform their roles adequately.
Yet through this clumsy melee of awkwardly implemented procedure, inarticulacy and incomprehension, justice had been done. The Judge had seen what Trip was in danger of becoming, but also recognised that as a young man with a decent career, he had the potential to avoid the abyss, on the edge of which he was teetering. Three DICs by the age of 21, but a career as an electronics technician. He had been punished, but the State had also recognised the plight of a young addict and was making an attempt to provide assistance.
But he had dealt his chances a grave blow. The Navy, one of the few employers to provide a considerable amount of education and support to its employees in relation to alcohol and addiction, would be unimpressed. The Judge had made a point of mentioning what a significant improvement he had seen in the Navy’s hitherto dysfunctional drinking culture, reflected in the relatively fewer and milder DIC cases that involved the Navy that now came before him. Trip was swimming against that tide of change, and this wasn’t the first time he had got himself hooked. The Navy were likely to throw the book at him.
As the court registrar, an unusual looking young man from the Dickensian era with comically fuzzy hair closed off his computer and glanced at me then the door, The Speculator considered Trip’s chances. Aged 21, three DICs, a stint in the Navy, a career in electronics. No family support and a girlfriend as daft as he is. The clumsy arm of the state; half around his neck, half around his shoulders. A career exhibiting some potential with a sympathetic employer, now likely in tatters.
Too close to call.
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