A Wollongong driver was high on a cocktail of drugs and alcohol when he was involved in an early morning crash at Windang that left his then-girlfriend fighting for life in hospital.
Mason Edwin Burgess had downed ecstasy, a prescription sedative and five bottles of beer before getting behind the wheel of his Toyota Hilux ute in the early hours of May 26 last year.
The 31-year-old was driving along Windang Road accompanied by his girlfriend, Jessica Nicholson, and friend, Morgan McPherson, when he lost control of the Hilux about 300 metres north of the Wattle Road intersection. The vehicle mounted the western gutter, spun and collided with a speed sign and power pole.
Officers from Lake Illawarra came across the accident site moments later and called other emergency services to the scene.
Both Burgess and Mr McPherson were able to free themselves from the wreckage but Ms Nicholson was unconscious and trapped in the car.
She was cut free by firefighters then flown to St George Hospital where she underwent emergency surgery to reduce pressure on her brain. She was placed in an induced coma and remained in hospital for several months.
In Wollongong Local Court on Friday, a report from Ms Nicholson's treating doctor revealed she suffered several bone fractures from the crash along with significant brain injuries that left her with post-traumatic amnesia for 16 days after the crash.
"The report says she's made significant improvements but as of March she still has headaches, mood alterations and suffers from a loss of smell and taste," Magistrate Jillian Kiely said.
Meanwhile, police from the Crash Investigation Unit examined the scene and determined that Burgess had been travelling at 40km/hr above the signposted 60km/hr zone at the time of the accident.
Burgess was subsequently charged with dangerous driving occasioning grievous bodily harm and causing bodily harm by misconduct in a motor vehicle, to which he pleaded guilty.
He told police he had ingested ecstasy about 12 hours before the crash and had drunk five stubbies of XXXX Summer beer between 6pm and 11pm that night. A doctor later determined the level of drugs in Burgess' system would have impaired his ability to drive.
In court on Friday, defence barrister Fiona Jowett said Burgess was full of guilt for his actions and had been working to turn his life around through psychological and drug treatment programs.
"His over-riding feeling since the date of accident has been one of considerable remorse; he's felt true mental distress as a result of what occurred," she said.
The court heard Burgess had already attended 14 sessions with the Illawarra Drug and Alcohol Service and had been clean for several months.
He and Ms Nicholson, although no longer in a relationship, remained close friends, Ms Jowett said.
Magistrate Kiely agreed to spare Burgess a full-time jail sentence given his extensive rehabilitation efforts to date.
"He referred himself to [drug treatment] and it's an extremely positive report," she said. "He's used this as a wake up call to rid himself of substances."
Magistrate Kiely imposed a two-year community-based intensive corrections order with the conditions that Burgess abstain from drugs and continue to see his treating psychologist. She also disqualified his licence for 18 months.