Gemma Sargent sentencing: family speaks of devastating loss

Nathaniel Price's family spoke in court on Thursday.

Nathaniel Price's family spoke in court on Thursday.

The family of high-speed crash victim Nathaniel Merritt-Price has told a Melbourne County Court of the emotionally crippling change his death caused.

Gemma Sargent, 20, appeared in court on Thursday for a plea hearing ahead of her sentencing for culpable driving causing death and negligently causing serious injury.

She was speeding with four passengers when her car rolled on New Year’s Eve 2015, killing 19-year-old Price, on Buninyong-Mount Mercer Road.

Another passenger, Joelene Bounday, was left with permanent brain and back injuries.

Nathaniel’s father, Rod Price, read a victim impact statement out to a packed court room on Thursday.

“My son Nathaniel has been ripped from my family and circle of friends,” he said.

“There is a room that is empty (at home), and a seat at the table that is vacant.

“I want to place on record the despair that is part of me every day.”

There were 16 victim impact statements submitted to the court.

Nathaniel’s mother, Susan Merritt-Price read her statement through tears as she told the court she had hoped her son’s death was a sick joke in the days following the crash.

“My worst nightmare came true on New Year’s Day, 2015,” she said.

“The thing I dreaded most as a mother happened… it was because of the foolish actions of a heart that didn’t care enough.

“My 19-year-old boy who should’ve lived to bury his parents (died).

“Nathaniel was a timid driver, he would have hated endangering others on the road.”

Gemma Sargent

Gemma Sargent

Sargent was remanded in custody after a jury found her guilty on September 7.

She appeared in the Ballarat Country Court via video link for the hearing.

The 20-year-old was heavily pregnant and already had one child when Price, pictured right, was killed.

Defence solicitor Jamie Page told the court his client was remorseful for her actions.

"She has made an absolute tragic mistake with consequences that affect many, many people,” he said.

“She is still young, still has prospects – she is soon to be a mother of two.”

“So the remorse is both for the consequences of her actions and the decision-making that took place.

“Being pregnant in custody and childbirth makes custody all the more difficult, that’s what makes it more onerous.”

Ms Bounday watched the hearing from Ballarat, with prosecutor Pat Bourke reading her victim’s impact statement to the court.

“Not only did I lose my best friend, I lost my life,” her statement said.

“I have been left with two broken bones in my back, I have got scars all over my body.

“I still have a scar from a hole in my leg, which no one knows the cause of.”

Not only did I lose my best friend, I lost my life

Joelene Bounday

Media watching the hearing from Ballarat were unable to hear Mr Bourke’s full argument, because the video link from Melbourne was turned off.

Speaking outside the court, Ms Bounday said she hoped Sargent would be “put away” for a long time.

“It changes my life, it changed me dramatically – she has no remorse,” she said.

Sargent was first committed to stand trial for the crash in November last year.

Paramedics and Country Fire Authority members attended the scene.

Emisha Lloyd and Jarred Sargent were also in the car.

Sargent overtook a car, which was travelling about 130km/hr, when she lost control.

Nurse Jennifer Cameron attended the scene following the crash and told the court two passengers said the car was travelling too fast.

Judge James Montgomery adjourned the case for sentencing to a later date.