DEPUTY State Coroner Sharon Freund told the families of Eliza Wannan and Will Dalton-Brown yesterday that Rhys Colefax was unlikely to be charged with any offence, after he ran over and killed the young couple sleeping in a swag on a property on Australia Day, 2010.
She said there was no provision for police to lay charges for dangerous driving on private property under current NSW laws.
“For someone to be charged with an offence of negligent, furious or reckless driving causing death [under the NSW Transport Act], the offence had to occur on a road or road-related area,” Ms Freund said.
She also said she understood the decision would compound the grief of the young people’s families.
Ms Freund set aside suggestions there were issues over the transparency of the police investigation, with a potential conflict of interest.
“I am satisfied on the balance of probabilities that the investigation, in the circumstances, was thorough and adequate, and was not compromised by the fact that Rhys Colefax was the son of a serving police officer who was formerly stationed at Orange,” she said.
Ms Freund said statements made by the parents of Ms Wannan and Mr Dalton-Brown at the inquest were moving accounts of the impact of their deaths on their families.
“It permitted me to peek into the window of their torment, loss and grief at losing their children,” she said.
However Ms Freund did not agree with the statement made by Gerald Brown, the father of Will Dalton-Brown, that Rhys Colefax “was the luckiest man in the world.”
“Rhys Colefax will have to carry with him for the rest of his life the knowledge his actions took the lives of two beautiful souls,” she said.
Ms Freund said Mr Colefax had been drinking on the night “to some unknown extent”, however, also in her findings were the readings from his blood and urine tests, which were conducted at 7.40am at Orange Base Hospital, more than two and a half hours after the young couple was run over.
The blood alcohol reading was 0.039g/100ml of alcohol from Mr Colefax, who drove himself to the party at Ridgeview on the Belgravia Road near Molong, despite being a Learner driver.
Colefax was breath tested at the scene following the accident and returned a zero reading, however, 10 days later police found the device to be defective.
Ms Freund said both young people died of hypoxic brain injury as a result of a cardiac arrest after being crushed, and there was no pathological way to determine how long the vehicle remained on the swag in which the couple were sleeping.
“It could have been anything between 30 seconds and several minutes,” she said.
Ms Freund also said if the tyre of the vehicle had become caught in the fabric of the swag it may have caused the fabric to pull, causing a smothering or strangulation effect by blocking the airways and necks of the deceased.
During her findings, Ms Freund also pointed to comparisons in legislation in Queensland and Victoria where there is provision, under similar circumstances, for people to be charged with an offence
Sitting in court to hear the findings yesterday along with family members were Mr Colefax’s lawyer Mason Manwaring and several police officers including Inspector Peter Atkins, who was the duty officer present on the day of the accident, head of detectives Sergeant Andrew McLean and Canobolas Local Area Command Superintendent David Driver.