Belinda Lee Thornton, partner of convicted truck driver Kenneth Pillar, sentenced after Maria Dowdell died in a car crash on the Swanport Bridge in Murray Bridge

Belinda Lee Thornton, partner of convicted truck driver Kenneth Pillar, has been sentenced for attempting to pervert the course of justice.

Ms Thornton, 32, was a passenger in a semi-trailer driver by Mr Pillar that collided with an ongoing vehicle on the Swanport Bridge in June of 2015, causing the death of 61-year-old Mount Gambier woman Maria Dowdell.

Mr Pillar was handed a sentence of five years in prison, with four years non-parole, in the Adelaide District Court back in May.

On Tuesday, October 3, Judge Sophie David spared Ms Thornton of jail time, instead handing her a six month suspended sentence and placing her on a $100 good behaviour bond for two years.

Ms David said Ms Thornton’s version of events, that Mr Pillar had suffered a coughing fit immediately before the collision, was untruthful.

“Whilst I accept that your initial false statements to police were made in the aftermath of having experienced the shock of a very serious collision, you continued to advance your false version of events to medical specialists for many months,” she said.

“Your conduct had the potential to derail the investigation of a very serious crime during which Ms Dowdell lost her life, and also had the potential to pervert the course of justice.”

After three victim impact statements were read to the court earlier that day, Ms David determined that Ms Thornton’s conduct exacerbated the pain felt by each family member and had the potential to pervert the course of justice.

“Your offending cannot be said to be a momentary lapse of judgment and has brought much pain to the family of Ms Dowdell,” she said.

“Such offending strikes at the very heart of the criminal justice system and has the potential to undermine the efficacy and justice of our system.”

In the decision to suspend Ms Thornton’s sentence, Ms David considered her role as a mother of two young children.

“Notwithstanding the seriousness of your offending and lack of antecedents, the fact you are a single mother… and that your offending occurred in the context of a relationship in which you were vulnerable, I consider there is good reason to suspend your sentence,” she said.

If Ms Thornton was to breach her good behaviour bond, she would serve her two-year sentence in prison.

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