Crash driver unable to explain actions
AN IPSWICH judge has found it was the inexplicable actions of a driver that caused a head-on collision.
In a judge-only trial, Trent Gray, 39, pleaded not guilty to dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing grievous bodily harm to Kyle Brooks on the Centenary Highway at Deebing Heights on January 30, 2018.
The trial before Judge Dennis Lynch QC heard Mr Brooks sustained serious ankle injuries and required surgery.
The collision occurred 400m west of the Ripley roundabout on a sweeping bend at 6.30pm.
Gray’s blood tested negative to alcohol and drugs, and he had not been speeding or distracted by his mobile phone, the judge heard.
One witness said Gray’s Honda Jazz was being driven west along Centenary Highway.
After negotiating the Ripley roundabout in the right lane, Gray was seen to enter the incorrect side of the highway, which he drove along for about 400m before he collided with a Hyundai driven by Casey Matthews.
She attempted to swerve left and the impact was taken by the front right side of her car. It veered into a ditch, rolled onto its roof and bounced back onto its wheels.
The Jazz then collided head-on with a blue Nissan Navara driven by Mr Brooks, causing the ute to roll.
Ms Matthews, 38, said she’d just left her gym and was heading home to Jimboomba when she saw the car being driven on her side of the highway.
She escaped with only minor injuries.
“I had a bit of a panic that this can’t be real. I tried to swerve left and the car hit me on the front right side,” she told the court.
“I spun off the road. Onto its roof and it came back down on the wheels.
“Before I got out I saw it (Jazz) had flames coming out of it.”
In his evidence, Mr Brooks, 37, said he was driving toward Brisbane to go to work in Swanbank and did not see the Jazz until the car in front swerved and his Navara was struck head-on.
“I don’t remember anything until I woke up dazed, confused. I heard banging on the roof, someone yelling out if I was okay and the passenger door flew open and man was looking down at me,” he said.
Mr Brooks said he had exploded ligaments and nerves, and cartilage damage.
Gray in a recorded interview with police said he’d worked at the Hilton and Pullman hotels that day in Brisbane and driving home by setting an ap on his phone to follow the fastest route.
When asked what he remembers driving home that day he replied – “I don’t, nothing at all” except for the sounds of glass smashing and being helped out of his damaged car.
“Holy crap,” he said clearly surprised when told by an officer what had occurred.
“Do you have any explanation as to why you operated the motor vehicle in the way you did,” the officer inquired.
“No,” said Gray.
“What do you think caused you to drive like that,” asked the officer.
“I don’t know. I’ve no idea why I would drive like that. I honestly have no idea,” Gray said.
Defence barrister Stephen Kissick, in written submission to Judge Lynch, argued that although unable to recall due to an injury it did not exclude that Gray had fallen asleep after negotiating the roundabout.
His submission of not being criminally responsible as he’d been driving involuntarily because sleep had occurred, and that it had not been a daydream or other such behaviour.
He also drew attention to Gray being a very cautious driver.
And noted that one witness described it as being “just weird”, the right indicator going on and the car driven into that side of the road.
Mr Kissick said the behaviour did raise the factor of “involuntariness” and that if there was a lack of consciousness by a driver the it could not be said that the vehicle was being driven by that person.
Mr Webber, in the prosecution case, argued that the elements of the charge were proven in that it establishes Gray was the driver, that he had driven onto the wrong side of the road for 400m before the two collisions.
He said the defence proposition Gray may have fallen asleep was not supported by evidence, and was speculation that could not be raised as defence.
“It’s inexplicable. We don’t know why he went onto the wrong side of the road. There was no medical condition and he was not affected by alcohol,” Mr Webber said.
Mr Webber argued that it was “not a momentary swerve” onto the incorrect side of the road but the car’s indicator had gone on and then driven for 400m in that lane.
Judge Lynch said the Crown case was partially circumstantial with no direct evidence his driving was a deliberate or willed act, although the prosecution maintained he should draw inference Gray was awake and consciously operating his car.
While defence argument maintained he was not criminally responsible in that the driving occurs independently of his will at the time of the collisions.
“He says he felt okay and was not tired and having a good day and not taking any medication. He had no desire of self-harm or suicidal thoughts,” Judge Lynch said.
“When told Mr Gray was genuinely shocked, became emotional.”
Judge Lynch said he was satisfied that Gray was awake and in control of his car and that there was no other rational verdict from the evidence other than he was in control.
He did not find it to be deliberate but calling it Inexplicable, said Gray may have become disorientated, been daydreaming, had a loss of concentration, or gone into one of those “zones” drivers can enter.
He found the charge proved with Gray guilty.
Gray grew up in Hervey Bay and following the crash now lives in Springfield, was sentenced to complete 240 hours of unpaid community service work. No conviction was recorded against him.