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