ZACHARY Joel Dowling was drunk and angry in May, 2014 when he called a taxi to Kurri Kurri, bashed and kicked the driver and threatened to cut his throat before driving the terrified driver at reckless speeds for three hours towards Brisbane.
But in an appeal against his minimum five year sentence Dowling argued he should only serve a minimum of three years jail – one year for each hour he terrorised the driver and evaded police.
He also blamed the victim. Dowling argued the taxi driver and his company “have to take some ownership of their part in the scenario”, based on his claim that by agreeing to let him go to his caravan to get $120 for a fare, they “knew” he didn’t have any money and bore some responsibility when he bashed the driver.
Dowling lost his appeal.
In a decision this week the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal found that not only had Newcastle District Court Judge Roy Ellis given Dowling an appropriate sentence, he credited Dowling with a remorse for his crimes that seemed to have diminished by the time Dowling lodged his appeal.
“I am unable to discern any error in the approach taken by the sentencing judge either in the individual sentences or in the total effective sentence,” Justice Christine Adamson found.
Dowling pleaded guilty to aggravated robbery, aggravated assault with intent to take a motor vehicle, failure to stop during a police pursuit, dangerous driving and mid range drink driving.
The court heard he called Kurri Kurri Taxis on May 17, 2014 asking to be taken to Newcastle. When the driver arrived Dowling asked to be taken to his cabin at a nearby caravan park to get the $120 fare. The company approved the driver taking Dowling to the cabin.
Dowling called the driver into the cabin, grabbed a knife, bashed the driver, broke his nose and ordered the driver to clean up the blood while saying “We are going to get my son and we are going to sort some people out”.
Dowling held the knife to the driver’s neck and forced him back to the taxi. Dowling cut the wires to the taxi’s meter, the in-car closed circuit television surveillance and the two-way radio and drove towards Newcastle, warning the driver that if he tried to run away, “You know what I will do with this knife”.
The court heard the taxi made a stop at a Mayfield service station and the taxi company reported the missing taxi and driver to police.
Police near Taree recorded the taxi driving at up to 180kph before it was stopped by tyre-deflation devices on the Pacific Highway.
The driver later told Judge Ellis that he believed he was going to die during the three hours, either by being stabbed or after a crash because of Dowling’s reckless driving.
The driver went from being a “gregarious, extroverted person who actively and wholeheartedly engaged with his family, friends and community, and had an active work and social life and a clear vision of his future” to a man whose life was significantly impacted by the three terrifying hours.
The court heard Dowling had a criminal history that included serious assaults. He was on parole after serving a sentence for assaulting his father at the time of the Kurri Kurri crimes.
He blamed his father for being absent when he was sexually assaulted as a child by another male relative, and said his father “let me down”.
Dowling is eligible for parole in 2019.