Jail sentence for man who killed Gitta Scheenhouwer

Michael Panayides was today sentenced to 11 years jail with a non-parole period of 8.5 years for killing Dutch woman Gitta Scheenhouwer while she was riding her bike on Chapel Street.

28-year-old Panayides was driving a stolen car on 12 August 2018 when he crashed into another vehicle, causing Ms Scheenhouwer to be pinned against a parked car.

He was sentenced by Judge Michael McInerney for the charges of culpable driving causing death, theft of a motor vehicle, recklessly causing injury, failing to assist at the scene, dealing with the proceeds of crime and driving unlicenced.

Nine years of the total sentence was for the charge of culpable driving causing death. The charge of recklessly causing injury related to another woman who was injured by Panayides’ driving.

In his sentencing remarks, Judge McInerny noted the seriousness of the crime and that the standard sentence for culpable driving causing death is eight years.

He also said that Ms Scheenhouwer should have been safe while she was riding to work in a bike lane.

“Ms Scheenhouwer was travelling in a designated bike lane, cars must not drive in such lanes. Ms Scheenhouwer was therefore entitled to assume that she could ride safely without interference, and was to be accorded right of way,” said Judge McInerny.

Judge McInerny, who watched CCTV footage of the incident many times, also said that Ms Scheenhouwer was visible and should have been seen by Panayides.

“I differ from the engineer, who suggested Ms Scheenhouwer had low conspicuity. Mr Panayides should have had a clear view of her,” said Judge McInerny.

Bicycle Network CEO Craig Richards said that nothing can be done to bring Gitta back, but that we can stop this from happening to another person.

“There is no sentence that will bring back Gitta or stop her family and boyfriend Thomas from hurting,” said Mr Richards.

“Australia failed Gitta by not providing a proper place to ride a bike that is protected from cars. We need to see separated bike lanes on Chapel Street and other key roads in Melbourne that can stop these crashes from happening.”

“Shortly after Gitta’s death the Mayor of Stonnington said he wanted to remove car parks and put in protected bike lanes on Chapel Street. This needs to happen.”

Panayides had prior criminal offences and has previously been sentenced to a jail term for armed robbery. He has a history of drug use, but it could not be confirmed if he was affected by drugs when the crash happened.

He had spent 459 days in jail prior to sentencing, which will be subtracted from his sentence of 11 years. He was disqualified from driving and he will not be able to get a driver licence for 20 years.

Judge McInerny also noted that the Attorney-General should consider post-sentence control orders. Culpable driving is currently excluded from the definition of serious violent offences which post-sentence control orders might usually apply to.

Bicycle Network attended the sentencing hearing at Melbourne County Court on Friday 15 November.

Click here to see the full sentencing reasoning by Judge McInerny.