Drink-driver: BOP crash took a ‘huge toll'

Tauranga dentist Dale Benic, pictured with his daughter, says the crash has taken a 'huge toll' on him, his family and his business.

Drink-driving crashes leave a trail of hurt, loss and carnage in their wake, yet the number of people caught over the limit on Bay of Plenty roads is rising.

In the second of our Traumatic Toll series examining drink-driving harm, Sandra Conchie speaks to a victim who feels ‘lucky to be alive’ after being hit by a drink-driver, but faces lasting impacts.

Tauranga dentist Dale Benic counts himself “lucky to be alive” after being hit by drink-driver more than four times over the limit, metres from his front door.

Benic, co-owner of the Bay of Plenty Tooth Fairy Dental practices, told the Bay of Plenty Times he was being dropped off outside his Oceanview Rd home in Mount Maunganui by his business partner about 8.30pm on April 4.

He was hopping out of her parked car when he saw a sedan or coupe drifting towards him, driven by 34-year-old Eric Albinio.

“I thought something must be wrong with the driver, or possibly they had been talking on their phone and lost control,” says Benic.

“I had no time to avoid being hit and was propelled into my business partner’s SUV, then thrown backwards about 5 or 10 metres.

“My next memory was waking up on the road in a haze with blood running down my face as I had quite a deep gash on the front of my head.”

Benic, 39, says he landed on his hands and head and must have lost consciousness.

When he came to he realised part of his right leg was broken. His right eye socket closed over because it was fractured, blurring his vision, and he “went into shock”.

“The police were on the scene quite quickly and when I regained consciousness several people were there trying to help me, including my neighbour.”

He says he spent six days in Tauranga Hospital, including about 48 hours in intensive care.

Benic suffered multiple fractures — a broken right knee, broken left shoulder, fractured right eye socket and other facial bones, acute fracture to his skull base and a brain bleed.

Benic says he hasn't been able to return to work because his knee is still in a brace, and it might be up to eight weeks before the unaddressed whiplash he suffered could be properly assessed because of the skull fracture.

Since the crash, he had experienced “lots of fatigue” and initially could not watch TV or use other visual display devices.

He says he might still need surgery to repair the damaged knee.

“In dentistry, you need good neck and head strength to wear the magnifying glasses. I also need to be able to use my right leg to control the instruments we use, and I need good movement on my left side to operate the dental mirror.”

The damaged car drink-driver Eric Albinio was driving after he hit a parked car and bowled a pedestrian.

The married father of two says the crash has taken a “huge toll” on him and his family, emotionally and financially.

All his clients’ dental appointments have been cancelled for the foreseeable future, meaning extra pressure on his colleagues.

Benic says he has gone through a range of emotions, from anger towards Albinio — who initially kept driving after the crash but returned about 10 minutes later — to feeling huge frustration and stress, especially given the uncertainty about his recovery.

“Part of that frustration is being unable to do my normal activities such as going to the gym and playing social hockey. I’m also a member of the Mount Golf Club.

“I was surprised when I was told how much Albinio had to drink, clearly way more than the two beers he told the police. I count myself unlucky to be on the road that day, but I count myself lucky to be alive, as I could easily have died.”

He says he's focused on recovering and getting back to normality as soon as possible and did not want to waste a lot of time thinking about Albinio.

He says he agreed to talk about his harrowing ordeal to remind other people about the impacts of drink-driving.

“With all the accessible transport options around the city, there is no reason for anyone to drink and drive. Just don’t do it.”

This week it was revealed the number of drink-drivers caught in the Bay of Plenty has hit a 12-year high. Police data shows 3065 drivers, or more than 50 a week, were caught driving over the limit in 2023.

Drink-driver pleads guilty

Albinio, 34, of Mount Maunganui, pleaded guilty to driving with excess breath alcohol causing injury, in the Tauranga District Court on May 20, a charge with a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

According to the police summary of facts released to the Bay of Plenty Times, Albinio failed to notice the parked car and Benic standing next to it and hit both, and pulled over about 50m on after he noticed his wing mirror was bent.

Albinio, a first-time offender before the court, told police he had two beers after work and was driving home.

Police said his breath alcohol reading was 1053 micrograms of alcohol per litre of breath — more than four times the adult legal limit of 250 micrograms. The limit for drivers under 20 is zero.

Police sought $600 reparation for the damage to the parked vehicle.

Albinio’s lawyer, Rynae Butler, asked Judge Louis Bidois not to enter a criminal conviction because her client intended to apply for a discharge without conviction, which she said would include submitting mitigating factors that may reduce his culpability.

Judge Bidois consented to Butler’s request and remanded Albinio on bail, pending sentencing on July 12.

-Bay of Plenty Times.

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