Paul Zanuso is gutted by a decision to suspend the jail sentence of the driver who killed his son Nathan in a road crash at Ulmarra last year.
Paul Zanuso is gutted by a decision to suspend the jail sentence of the driver who killed his son Nathan in a road crash at Ulmarra last year. Adam Hourigan

Death driver walks free

THE father of Nathan Zanuso, the young man who died after a head-on collision with a B-double at Ulmarra last year, is outraged the truck driver who fell asleep at the wheel before the crash has walked free after his conviction for negligent driving occasioning death in Downing Centre Local Court in Sydney on Friday.

"I will go to my grave bitter thinking this bloke walked because he got a sleep apnoea diagnosis ... I see this as an escape mechanism, a loophole and I don't know what sort of message it sends out to the transport industry," said Paul Zanuso.

Robert Alan Pearce, 52, of Melbourne, was disqualified from driving for two years, and his nine-month, 27-day jail sentence was suspended by Chief Magistrate Graeme Henson who took into account Pearce's clean record and his post-crash diagnosis of "severe obstructive sleep apnoea".

He was also fined $1650 for two charges of recording false or misleading entries into a work record.

Agreed facts in the matter stated Pearce fell asleep, failed to negotiate a left-hand bend and crossed onto the wrong side of the road at Ulmarra about 4.24am on February 11, 2010.

Despite Nathan Zanuso's best efforts to avoid a collision, the judgement said, Pearce's truck collided head on with the car and Nathan, 27, suffered extensive injuries and died in hospital eight days later.

Mr Henson found Pearce had been "less than diligent" in taking the minimum required rests for professional drivers and had, in fact, been driving for 36 hours out of 72 hours in the three days leading up to the crash.

Pearce was originally charged with dangerous driving occasioning death and was committed to stand trial in the District Court but the Department of Public Prosecutions withdrew the more serious dangerous driving charge and settled for the negligent driving charge following an independent assessment of Pearce's sleep apnoea.

Judge Freeman ordered the case back to Local Court on September 1.

But Mr Zanuso said the leniency of the outcome was unacceptable and unjust and, after almost two years of adjournments, the decision had blown the family away.

"To me, if you kill someone ... he could have at least had a year in a cold cell thinking about what he'd done," he said.

"If he (Pearce) takes steps to correct his sleep disorder he could get back behind the wheel after his disqualification ... it's a disgrace."

He said Pearce asked the family if he could apologise for the accident in September but the family opted to only accept an apology in writing.

"We've still got nothing," he said.

Mr Zanuso's heart-wrenching Victim Impact Statement outlined how his son's "extraordinary battle for life" in the eight days after the crash perplexed medical professionals at John Hunter Hospital, Newcastle.

"The fact that we eventually had to remove Nathan from life support is just too heart wrenching to describe," he said.

"I know I will never be able to possibly describe in words the absolute epic devastation of losing my son - he was my best mate and proudest achievement."

To view the full judgement go to

Victim impact statements:

Paul Vanuso's victim impact statement

Leonie Zanuso's victim impact statement