Cops join dots to put wife-killing truckie in frame for cy­clist’s death

The Weekend Australian - - THE NATION - DAVID MUR­RAY NA­TIONAL CRIME COR­RE­SPON­DENT

A truck driver has been con­victed of dan­ger­ous driv­ing caus­ing the death of a re­spected vet­eri­nary anaes­thetist on a com­mu­nity bike ride.

But Ge­of­frey Joseph Sleba was ac­quit­ted of a charge of dan­ger­ous driv­ing and leav­ing the scene — af­ter his de­fence sug­gested he could have briefly fallen asleep and hit cy­clist Martin Pear­son without know­ing it.

Jurors weren’t told of Sleba’s un­usual past: years ear­lier he had shot his wife dead in bizarre cir­cum­stances while search­ing for a snake.

Pass­ing mo­torists found Pear­son’s body on a 100km/h stretch of the In­gle­wood-Millmer­ran Road south of Toowoomba, south­east Queens­land, on An­zac Day 2014, the vic­tim of what ap­peared to be a hit and run. Other than the dis­cov­ery of a ve­hi­cle’s Light­force spot­light at the scene, po­lice ini­tially had lit­tle to go on but clever de­tec­tive work led to Sleba be­ing pin­pointed as the driver.

Data down­loaded from an elec­tronic traf­fic counter 7.8km away from the ac­ci­dent was com­pared with ser­vice sta­tion video footage, con­firm­ing a truck was head­ing to­wards Pear­son.

If the truck trav­elled at 98km/h af­ter cross­ing the traf­fic counter, it would have passed the ac­ci­dent site at 3.14pm — the time the GPS on Pear­son’s bike recorded the col­li­sion.

The un­usual style of truck led po­lice to Sleba, who was trans­port­ing sorghum that day.

His truck had lost a spot­light — the same brand and type as the one found at the scene. High­way video footage showed Sleba’s truck with two spot­lights the day be­fore the in­ci­dent and only one in the days af­ter. A blue and white smear on Pear­son’s right shoe was con­sis­tent with the mud flaps on Sleba’s truck. Scrapes on the truck’s pass- en­ger side could have come from the bike’s metal frame.

Dur­ing a two-week trial in the District Court at War­wick, Sleba gave ev­i­dence that he had no mem­ory of hit­ting the cy­clist but could not rule out it was him.

Of­fer­ing var­i­ous ex­pla­na­tions for the dam­age to his truck, he said he struck a kan­ga­roo the night be­fore Pear­son’s death and did not im­me­di­ately no­tice his spot­light was miss­ing.

Ev­i­dence was also pre­sented by the de­fence that Sleba had un­di­ag­nosed se­vere ob­struc­tive sleep ap­noea at the time.

Jeff Hunter QC, for Sleba, out­lined a sce­nario in which he could have failed to re­alise he was tired and then briefly fell asleep without re­al­is­ing it.

It could not be ruled out that “he drove off be­cause he didn’t know it had hap­pened”, he said.

But crown pros­e­cu­tor Sam Bain said “there would have been a very big, au­di­ble bang” when Pear­son was struck. Pear­son, 61, should have been vis­i­ble to Sleba for 13 se­conds.

Judge Leanne Clare or­dered Sleba be taken into cus­tody ahead of his fu­ture sen­tenc­ing.

Sleba had shot his wife Leanne with a 12-gauge shot­gun at their Kingsthorpe home, where they lived with their four chil­dren, on April 24, 2008.

Ac­cord­ing to the find­ings of an in­quest, Sleba said his wife saw a snake go­ing into a shed and they went look­ing for it to­gether.

As she walked in front of him, an east­ern brown snake crossed his feet, caus­ing him to jump and re­sult­ing in the firearm dis­charg­ing into her back.

Mur­der was ruled out be­cause there was no mo­tive.

Martin Pear­son, who was killed while cy­cling in 2014; Ge­of­frey Sleba with his late wife Leanne; and Sleba at court

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