HE was once arguably the most hated man in Australia, after nearly killing young beauty therapist Nicole Miller in what he admitted was an act of stupidity.
However Peter Hodgkins has turned his life around since the fateful early morning rock-throwing attack on the car in which Ms Miller was asleep as it headed south on the Princes Highway at Bombo.
During Monday night’s Australian Story program on ABC TV, former Shoalhaven Police Local Area Commander, Superintendent Wayne Starling, said Mr Hodgkins had made major changes to his life since the incident.
“In my 30 years in the police force, this is the first time I’ve seen an offender come forward to try and make amends for what he’s done.
“I just hope people will give him a go,” Superintendent Starling said.
“The man he is today is very different to the irresponsible person he was four years ago.”
That change has seen Mr Hodgkins working with police in an effort to convince teenagers to stop and think before acting – something he said he did not do before hurling a rock at a car in the early hours of the morning.
“I’d have to say the biggest thing I learnt from my whole sentence is to stop and think before doing something.”
He told the television program there was no real reason for throwing the rock, but when he found out the following day someone had been injured “I felt sick” and swore to never drink again.
The rock throwing came after a night of heavy drinking, following Mr Hodgkins not being able to see his daughter that weekend, as had been promised.
“I decided to write myself off,” he said.
That decision changed the lives of Mr Hodgkins, Ms Miller who has become Nicole Timbs since marrying long-time boyfriend Andrew Timbs in late 2009, and their families.
It also led to Mr Hodgkins being jailed for two years.
“It did seem a bit lenient, to only serve two years for nearly taking someone’s life,” he said.
The incident nearly killed Mrs Timbs, who had part of her skull removed and spent time in an induced coma, before having to struggle through months of rehabilitation.
“As far as I knew I’d been in a car accident,” Mrs Timbs told the television program.
When she found out what had happened, “I was really dumbfounded by it, especially when I found out he was older than me, he was a father – I mean, what kind of person does that?”
Her mother Jenni Tillett said she noticed changes in her daughter, who continued to need help with so many aspects of life.
“It’s taken me a little while to love my new girl, because I miss my old one,” she said.
Ms Tillett was at one stage contacted by Mr Hodgkins’ father asking if she could ever forgive his son.
“No, it’s not finished for us, this is forever,” she replied.
Mr Hodgkins said he hoped to one day meet Mrs Timbs, “and tell her how really sorry I am”.
However he was not expecting forgiveness.
“I don’t expect Nicole or her family to ever forgive me for what I did, it’s an unforgivable act,” he said.
“I don’t know if I could forgive him,” Mrs Timbs said. “He’s a stranger to me, I have no feelings towards him.
“What happened happened, we just have to get on with it.”
Lesson the kids will not forget
WHEN Peter Hodgkins tells a class of 50 year 10 students about the moment he threw a rock from an overpass at a car below, you can hear a pin drop.
It was a moment of stupidity that almost killed a young woman, and one that earned Mr Hodgkins a two-year jail sentence – but since being released he has been working to undo the damage he caused.
“There was still rock throwing going on. Bus drivers in Western Sydney were changing their routes,” he said.
Sergeant John Klepczarek from Lake Illawarra Police had asked Mr Hodgkins’ father whether the 25-year-old would want to help put together educational material to stop rock throwing, and Mr Hodgkins took up the offer.
“John mentioned doing a commercial, but I wanted to do something with more impact,” he said.
So before Term 1 of the school year finished in April, Mr Hodgkins spoke in front of about 50 year 10 students at Dapto High School.
“I spoke for about 40 minutes and told them about the night I threw a rock – I don’t think I saw one of them blink, that’s how focused they were,” he said.