Mum weeps as fine doubled for stealing Seaworld pilot's identity
A mother of two who stole the identity of the pilot killed in the Sea World helicopter tragedy in a bid to dodge a traffic ticket has had her fine doubled in court.
Stephanie Louise Bennett wept openly as she pleaded guilty to fraud by dishonestly inducing a person to act and one count of obtaining or dealing with another's identity to commit an indictable offence in Beenleigh Magistrates Court on Friday.
The 33-year-old confessed to using dead pilot Ash Jenkinson's identity after she was caught using her mobile phone behind the wheel on December 15.
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It wasn't the first time Bennett had been caught on her mobile while driving, but this time, she could not afford the $1078 fine and the four demerits points she faced meant she would lose her licence.
Bennett had been desperate to get her life on track and pay down a debt she already owed to the State Penalties Enforcement Registry.
She had just started a new job as a forklift driver at a warehouse, and if her licence was suspended, she feared she would lose her job.
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So, she scoured the obituary notices to pin the fine on another driver.
After several attempts to nominate other drivers failed, she chose the details belonging to Ashley Jenkinson.
She filled out his name and date of birth and created a fake address.
Bennett had never met Jenkinson or his devastated partner Kosha Richardson, and his name didn't ring a bell with the forklift driver.
According to her lawyer Zane Chapman, Bennett also didn't pay much attention to the news.
His client had no idea Jenkinson was a pilot who had been killed when two Sea World helicopters collided midair on January 2 and was oblivious to the massive publicity surrounding the tragedy.
"She has nominated someone online… it was quite easy to do," Chapman said.
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"That is in no way to diminish my client's conduct… what she has done is dishonest, and she is remorseful.
"There is no excuse for her conduct."
Chapman said Bennett was deeply embarrassed and had been subjected to enormous public humiliation.
"Her name and face have been all over the media and on Facebook. You Google her, and she comes up. She has been publicly humiliated and is embarrassed to be before the court."
Magistrate Mark Howden acknowledged Bennett had made a "grave mistake", one that would have been deeply distressing to Jenkinson's grieving family who reported the identity theft, but declined to give a victim impact statement.
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Bennett choked back years the magistrate said her deception "struck at the heart of the justice system".
"I accept that you have made publicly humiliated at work among friends and acquaintances," Howden said.
"And I accept that that humiliation is in all likelihood ongoing."
Howden said the offence was very serious and would have caused great distress to Jenkinson's family.
"I do accept that there will be an impact on your social wellbeing – clearly there already has been."
Bennett was fined $2000 – almost double the original fine – and a conviction was recorded.
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