Heartbroken family members of a “selfless and gifted” schoolteacher who died days after a crash south of Adelaide have told a court of their profound grief at losing the “glue” in their family.

Bernice Sternberg, 61, was a passenger in a car being driven by her husband when another driver, John Tsalapatis, drove through a McLaren Vale intersection without stopping.

Surrounded by her family in the Flinders Medical Centre (FMC), Ms Sternberg died from her injuries five days after the 2021 crash.

Tsalapatis, 59, of Keswick, was last month found guilty of causing death by dangerous driving.

On Tuesday, prosecutor Jim Pearce KC read a victim impact statement to the District Court on behalf of Ms Sternberg’s husband Rony, who described how his life had changed since the death of his beloved “sweetheart”, whom he met in 1977 and married in 1985.

“I miss her so much,” he said.

“This has been the absolute saddest and loneliest and heartbreaking three years of my life.”

Mr Sternberg said his wife “would always make time for others before herself” which was why “she was so special”.

He said he missed fishing, cooking, gardening, walking along the beach and spending time together with his wife, and now struggled without her by his side.

“I look at Bernice’s picture … and I say, ‘I miss you so much, honey, I wish you were here’, and I get emotional and I cry,” he said.

“The hardest thing for me to do was to say goodbye to my sweetheart Bernice.”

John Tsalapatis was found guilty of causing death by dangerous driving.(University of Adelaide)

Mr Sternberg said he now held his breath whenever he approached the intersection where the crash occurred, and got a “terrible worried feeling”.

“It’s always a question I will have for the rest of my life,” he said.

“It could have been prevented if he [Tsalapatis] only stopped at this intersection.

“I will never forgive him for what he has done to me and my whole family, causing the death of my darling Bernice.

“Life without you is not going to be the same anymore.”

‘Profound ache in my heart’

The court heard Ms Sternberg’s brother David Field was in the intensive care unit at FMC when his sister arrived and was recovering from injuries sustained in an unrelated crash two weeks earlier.

“Her life touched many people and the world was truly a better place for having her in it,” he said.

The court heard Ms Sternberg was “Nanma” to four grandchildren, but died before her youngest two grandchildren were born.

Members of her family, including her two tearful sons Dion and Luke Sternberg and mother Nancy Field, told the court they forgave Tsalapatis.

“My life is far more lonely and complicated without her help,” Ms Field said.

The crash happened at McLaren Vale south of Adelaide in 2021.(ABC News: Brant Cumming)

Dion Sternberg said the loss of his “irreplaceable” mother had “left a profound ache in my heart”, while Luke Sternberg said she was the “glue in our family” and that she was “deeply missed”.

Other family members also described their grief, describing Ms Sternberg as a nurturing and kind person characterised by a “genuine smile”.

Leanne Lovett, a colleague from McLaren Vale Primary School where Ms Sternberg had taught, said she was one of the most loved and respected teachers she had known.

She said sharing the news of the crash with teachers and the school’s 530 students was “gut-wrenching” and “awful”, and that Ms Sternberg’s death left a “dark and heavy” feeling throughout the school community.

“Our staff still talk about her daily, she is present in our everyday lives,” she said.

“Our school will never be the same without her. We loved her.

“Bernice was the type of person that made me want to be a better version of myself.”

Tsalapatis still blaming intersection, court told

Jane Abbey KC, for Tsalapatis, told the court her client felt “a deep and genuine remorse” over the death of Ms Sternberg but said his actions were “not criminal in nature”.

Earlier this month, he lodged an appeal against his conviction in the Supreme Court.

Ms Abbey urged Judge Nick Alexandrides to impose a suspended sentence, or alternatively, a home detention sentence that would allow him to remain working as an engineer and team leader at an energy company.

Mr Peace said Tsalapatis did not come before the court with an unblemished driving record and that the consequences of his driving were “painfully on display when we heard those victim impact statements”.

He said a suspended sentence could be appropriate, but it was not the norm.

“It’s not an overwhelming acceptance of responsibility for the outcome,” Mr Pearce said.

“He’s blaming the layout of the intersection still.”

Tsalapatis will be sentenced next month.