Warning: Graphic content
A samurai sword-wielding Tesla driver who pleaded guilty to a “stupid road rage” attack that left a stranger bleeding in a ditch and incapacitated from a nearly lethal, bone-deep neck wound has been sentenced to home detention for what a judge described today as a “moment of sheer madness”.
Judge Mina Wharepouri told Darryn Clarke, 43, in the Manukau District Court this afternoon that he had decided on home detention “only by a slender margin” after weighing the defendant’s remorse and lack of previous criminal history against his “mindless act of violence which has had serious and far-reaching consequences”.
The judge described the defendant’s “stupid road rage” admission as “a poor and inadequate description” of what had happened, preferring instead to refer to it as “a callous and cowardly attack on a defenceless man, using a weapon without any real provocation”.
hhe victim, then 55, was walking his dog along Batty Rd in Karaka about 3pm on January 5 this year when he spotted Clarke’s Tesla approaching. He stood in the middle lane, motioning for the vehicle to slow down, then tapped the Tesla’s roof with his palm as Clarke steered the vehicle around him.
Clarke had his wife and young children with him in the car. He stopped the vehicle, grabbed the sheathed samurai sword, which he claimed to keep in the vehicle for protection, and approached the victim - swinging the weapon at him in a downward diagonal angle. Clarke would later describe the blow to police as having been “50 per cent force”, but it was enough to shatter the sheath on impact and inflict major damage as it sliced through the victim’s upper body.
“He suffered a deep laceration to his neck, down to the bone but without hitting the spinal cord,” court documents state. “The complainant’s jaw was broken, and his facial muscles and nerves were severed.
“The sword also cleaved a large chunk of flesh and bone from the complainant’s left shoulder, which required emergency surgery and skin grafts. The complainant also suffered severed tendons in his left hand.”
After the victim fell into a ditch on the side of the road, Clarke drove away.
He tried to call for help but was unable to unlock his phone because of all the blood, court documents state. He was found minutes later by his son, who was driving home from work and noticed his father in the ditch.
“But for the timely intervention, it is highly likely your victim would have died from blood loss,” the judge noted today. “The victim’s son is to be praised for all that he did.”
The victim, who has asked not to be identified, still suffers facial drooping and a speech impediment as a result of the injuries to his head. He has ringing in his ears, cannot fully lift his arm and has issues with the severed tendons in his hand. He can no longer work in the profession he has dedicated his adult life to, his family said today.
Later describing the attack to authorities and to a psychologist who prepared a report for today’s hearing, Clarke described himself as “precious” about his vehicles.
“He believed the vehicle to have been struck [rather than tapped] and he irrationally overreacted to that,” said defence lawyer Graham Newell. “His intention was to whack the victim, but in a fairly harmless fashion.
“He expressed great remorse for his actions.”
The defendant said he didn’t initially realise the scabbard for the sword had shattered until after he drove off and his wife said that she had seen blood.
“It was then that you looked down and saw the blade of the sword exposed,” the judge said. “You claim you then went into a state of shock.”
The defendant claimed he turned the vehicle around to look for the victim but couldn’t find him.
“The scene inside your car became chaotic,” the judge said. “Your children [were] crying about what they had no doubt witnessed and you and your wife [were] arguing about what you should do next.”
Clarke told authorities he dropped his family at home then returned to try to find the victim, but police and paramedics had already arrived. He later turned himself in at Manukau Police Station and admitted he was responsible.
He initially pleaded not guilty to causing grievous bodily harm with intent to do so, which carries a maximum possible punishment of 14 years’ imprisonment. He changed his plea to guilty after the Crown reduced the charge to causing grievous bodily harm with intent only to cause injury, which carries a maximum sentence of seven years.
It reflects, the judge noted, an acceptance of Clarke’s claim that his sword was sheathed when he struck.
Despite that, the judge should consider a sentence of imprisonment due to the life-altering injuries and the psychological impact on the victim and his family, prosecutor Gareth Kayes argued.
“The consequences of one’s action do matter here,” he said.
Judge Wharepouri agreed the consequences for the victim were severe. He suggested that, despite Clarke’s confession and letter of apology, he seemed to minimise his actions to a degree by suggesting the victim had provoked the attack by hitting his Tesla.
“Whether he tapped it or gave it a hefty whack, as you maintain, is really beside the point,” the judge said. “What then occurred can only be fairly described as a moment of sheer madness.
“The injuries caused to [the victim] can only be described as horrific.”
The judge also noted that two reports prepared for sentencing described the defendant as a low risk of reoffending and recommended a non-custodial sentence.
“You are described by many as being a committed family man, genuine, sincere, with a big heart ... someone who is polite, respectful, mild-mannered and a role model to many,” the judge said. “No one who knows you well can fully comprehend your offending.”
Under those circumstances, the judge said he didn’t see how a custodial sentence would benefit the community or serve as a deterrence. He ordered a sentence of 10 months home detention, 100 hours of community service and a $5000 emotional harm reparation to be given either to the victim or a charity.
Clarke hugged family as he was allowed to leave the dock and return home.
His victim and the victim’s immediate family did not attend court today but his wife and children provided victim impact statements. Some extended family members quietly grumbled as the home detention sentence was handed down.
It wouldn’t be fair, family members said in victim impact statements at the outset of the hearing, if Clarke was to go free and continue about his life while his actions have left their lives in disarray.
“His life will never be the same,” the victim’s sister said, expressing her disgust that the charge against Clarke was reduced.
The victim’s wife described the trauma of being told that he was unlikely to survive his injuries. He had three operations and spent three days in the ICU, followed by 10 days in a plastic surgery ward. The psychological damage is still very raw, she said.
“It’s hard to talk about what happened without bursting into tears,” she said. “It’s like something out of a horror movie.
“It still feels so surreal. You don’t imagine going out for a walk could ever end the way it did that day.”
The victim’s daughter described now feeling fear simply walking to the post box to get the mail or taking the dog for a walk.
“Something is seriously wrong when someone thinks it’s OK to attack someone with a sword for no reason,” she said, describing it a something straight out of her murder-mystery books. “What kind of a person thinks it’s okay to carry a sword in their car?”
Multiple family members said they were anxious about the idea of Clarke returning to society.
“I cannot comprehend how a man can expose his family to this level of violence,” the victim’s brother said, adding that he worries about the psychological stability of anyone who feels so unsafe in the world that they feel the need to carry a sword.
Craig Kapitan is an Auckland-based journalist covering courts and justice. He joined the Herald in 2021 and has reported on courts since 2002 in three newsrooms in the US and New Zealand.2023-10-03T02:06:41Z dg43tfdfdgfd