A driver who struck and killed a Dutch cyclist on her way to work could spend the rest of his life behind bars, the judge who will sentence him has warned.
Gitta Scheenhour, 27, was living her dream of becoming an architect in Melbourne, travelling with her boyfriend and excitedly awaiting a visit by her little sister.
But the life of the young adventurer, who was described as having limitless ambitions and endless positivity, was cut short when the now-28-year-old Michael Panayides slammed into her bike on a sunny Sunday morning in Chapel Street last August.
She died at the scene and Panayides, who had been speeding at twice the limit on his way to buy drugs, ran away, declaring “I’m going to have to live with this”.
Ms Scheenhouwer’s parents, siblings and boyfriend Thomas Kleinegris, who was living in Melbourne with her at the time, this week travelled from the Netherlands to attend Panayides’ pre-sentence hearing over two days.
Today, the young driver’s lawyer Rohan Lawrence said Panayides had a long drug and criminal history, including several years in prison, and is at risk of institutionalisation.
Prosecutor Mark Rochford QC described Panayides’ prospects for rehabilitation as guarded, which Judge Michael McInerney agreed was the only conclusion.
Will he rehabilitate? He may well be a person who spends the rest of his life in jail,” the judge warned.
“And hopefully not kill anyone else.”
He said Panayides’ driving before the crash, including driving down Bourke Street mall and the tram-only section of Swanston Street, was “totally incomprehensible”.
Yesterday, Mr Rochford told the hearing Panayides had sped up from 69km/h to 80km/h – double the speed limit, in Chapel Street and tried to undertake another car.
He swerved into the cycle lane, striking the back of the other and rolling the stolen Mercedes he was driving. Ms Scheenhouwer was caught up in the crash, suffering fatal injuries.
Judge McInerney asked for photos of Ms Scheenhouwer during the hearing as family and friends spent hours sharing happy memories and the devastation of life without her.
“She had just arrived (in Australia) to make her dreams come true,” her mother Mirjam Soonieus said.
“Never can I welcome her back to the Netherlands and tell her I am proud of her.”
Ms Scheenhouwer’s brother Pim and sisters Tessa and Babs said their world collapsed on hearing the news.
They miss her every day, but especially “during the moments you just need your sister”, Babs said.
“She was a girl who had so many positive vibes and energies. Our memories are now my memories,” best friend Doortje Kok said.
The family will remain in Australia until Panayides is sentenced on November 15.