SOUTH Grafton Catholic priest Peter Jones has avoided jail time despite driving with seven times the legal limit of alcohol in his blood stream on one of Australia's biggest highways on October 19 last year.
The St Patrick's Parish priest pleaded guilty to having 0.341 blood alcohol content at an earlier court appearance and has since undergone extensive rehabilitation including attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
Magistrate David Heilpern gave Jones, 58, a 12-month suspended jail sentence upon condition of a section 12 good behavior bond and suspended his licence for two years and eight months.
Fr Jones was convicted of high range PCA in May, 2001 at Macksville.
At his previous court appearance on December 12, Fr Jones was warned he could face a jail term by presiding Magistrate Shane McAnulty.
"This is a serious matter because the reading is so high," Mr McAnulty said.
"Ordinarily, people with a reading that high should expect to go to jail."
"It was such a high reading that it is inconceivable that a person could drive (in that state)."
Mr McAnulty said the fact that it was Fr Jones' second high-range PCA offence was causing him "some concern" and suggested the holy man may need to do some "soul searching" on his behaviour.
Police facts tendered to the court said Fr Jones was driving north on the Pacific Hwy at Cowper about 1.15pm on Wednesday, October 19 when a driver rang police concerned that the white Toyota Camry Fr Jones was driving was being driven unsafely.
A police patrol car waited for Fr Jones at Ferry Park, Maclean and followed him for a short time.
After some road works, police activated lights and sirens.
"While following the driver police also observed the driver's actions to be swerving left to right all over the road," said Senior Constable Stephen Bennett in his report.
"The driver appeared to not see police and continued along the highway."
Fr Jones eventually pulled over on Yamba Rd under the Harwood Bridge and stumbled next to his car, the evidence said.
Asked why he didn't pull over, Fr Jones indicated he was looking for a safe spot to pull over.
"It should be noted that there were numerous spots on the highway to stop," Sen Cnst Bennett said.
Police smelt alcohol on Fr Jones breath and noted he was sweaty, shaky and unsteady on his feet.
A roadside breath test returned a positive reading but the figure was crossed out of the police evidence.
At Maclean Police Station, Fr Jones returned a reading of 0.341.
Fr Jones told police that he had had his first drink at 12.30pm that same day, 45 minutes before he was spotted by a concerned driver at Cowper and that he could not remember his last drink.
Police said Fr Jones' actions posed a very high degree of danger to himself and other road users.
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