The Offence of Aggravated Dangerous Driving Occasioning Death in NSW

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Crime scene

The teenager who was at the wheel when his ute collided with trees in the small New South Wales town of Buxton, South West of Sydney, has pleaded guilty to several serious driving offences.

Tyrell Edwards, who is only 19, pleaded guilty to five counts of aggravated dangerous driving occasioning death at Picton Local Court, and has been taken into custody pending his sentencing hearing.

Driving at almost double the speed limit

According to the agreed facts tendered in court, Tyrell Edwards was travelling at an excessive speed when he lost control of the vehicle he was driving.

He was driving at 117.9km/h in a 60km/h zone on East Parade in Buxton when he lost control of the Nissan Navara utility. It left the road and hit two trees. As a result of the second impact, the rear cabin was torn open, and the rear seat ejected from the vehicle.

The court also heard that the car was ‘overloaded’ – it had six people on board when there were only seat belts for four people, including the driver, and that at one point, while driving, Tyrell Edwards held his mobile phone and filmed himself swerving the steering wheel.  

Mr Edwards said in police interviews which were also tendered in court as agreed facts that he sometimes felt the ute randomly ‘speed up and slow down’ while he was on the highway, but he did not take it to a mechanic. 

He also told police that “the steering wheel started shaking and then started going ‘left to right’ and when he tried to straighten it, it got worse”, and when he attempted to brake when the car started to shake. 

Mr Edward’s said he had experienced similar shaking a few weeks prior to the accident. 

A police mechanical expert found no defects that might have been a contributing factor to the collision, and two mechanics who previously inspected the ute spoke of no faults.

Devastating consequences 

Tyrell Edwards only suffered minor injuries in the crash, which paramedics described as one of the “most confronting scenes” ever witnessed. However, five of his friends – Lily Van De Putte and Gabby McLennan, both 14, Summer Williams and Tyrese Bechard, both 15, and Antonio Desisto, 16, all died in the crash.

At the time the accident prompted much broader discussion about the high number of fatal car crashes which involve young and inexperienced drivers and whether or not the age for driver licensing should be raised, particularly for male drivers who are the highest statistic. 

The offence of aggravated dangerous driving occasioning death 

Aggravated dangerous driving occasioning death is an offence under section 52A of the Crimes Act 1900 which carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison.

To establish the offence, the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that:

  1. You were the driver of a motor vehicle,
  2. You were involved in an impact causing the death of another person, 
  3. You were under the influence of alcohol or a drug, or you were driving at a dangerous speed, or you were driving in a dangerous manner, and
  4. The offence was committed in circumstances of aggravation.

A ‘vehicle’ is defined as:

  1. Any motor car, motor carriage, motor cycle, or any other vehicle propelled, wholly or partly, by volatile spirit, steam, gas, oil, electricity, or by any other means other than human or animal power, or
  2. A horse-drawn vehicle.

An ‘impact’ is that which occurs:

  1. Between an object or a person and the vehicle,
  2. Between an object, including the ground, due to being thrown from the vehicle,
  3. With another vehicle or object in, on or near a person,
  4. With anything on or attached to the vehicle, or
  5. With anything in motion through falling from the vehicle.

It also includes where:

  1. A vehicle overturns or leaves the road, or
  2. A person falls or is thrown or ejected from the vehicle.

A ‘circumstance of aggravation’ is where:

  1. You had a ‘prescribed concentration of alcohol’ in your bloodstream,
  2. You exceeded the speed limit by more than 45 km/h,
  3. You were ‘very substantially impaired’ by a drug or drugs, or
  4. You were attempting to avoid a pursuit by police.

A ‘prescribed concentration of alcohol’ is a reading of at least 0.15.

You are presumed to have been under the influence of alcohol where you had the prescribed concentration of alcohol in your bloodstream.

A certificate of your alcohol or drug concentration is admissible as evidence as long as the analysis occurred within 2 hours after the impact, unless you are able to prove ‘on the balance of probabilities’ that the concentration was lower at the time impact.

A defence to the charge is that the death was not attributable in any way to:

  1. Being under the influence of alcohol or drugs,
  2. The speed at which you drove, or
  3. The manner in which you drove.

Bail refused 

Mr Edwards caused the crash last September, sending the small, tight-knit community of Buxton into grief – all the teens attended the same high school. 

As a result of the incident, Edwards is having ongoing psychiatric treatment for PTSD and major depressive disorder. 

However, these were not enough for the court to agree to allowing him to remain on bail ahead of sentencing later this month and he was taken into custody immediately. 

Magistrate David Degnan noted that: “The aggravated dangerous driving was particularly egregious in that it was dangerous driving repeated over a period of time ultimately leading to the loss of control of the vehicle,” said on Thursday.

He determined that Mr Edward’s need for ongoing treatment did not amount to “exceptional circumstances” which would allow Mr Edwards to remain on bail, particularly in light of the fact that he would definitely face a full-time prison sentence.

“Special circumstances” within the New South Wales  Bail Laws 

Under new bail laws which came into force in New South Wales last year, outlines limitations regarding bail during the period following conviction (or guilty plea) and before sentencing for certain offences. 

Section 22B states:

(1) During the period following conviction and before sentencing for an offence for which the accused person will be sentenced to imprisonment to be served by full-time detention, a court–

(a) on a release application made by the accused person–must not grant bail or dispense with bail, unless it is established that special or exceptional circumstances exist that justify the decision, or

(b) on a detention application made in relation to the accused person–must refuse bail, unless it is established that special or exceptional circumstances exist that justify the decision.

(2) If the offence is a show cause offence, the requirement that the accused person establish that special or exceptional circumstances exist that justify a decision to grant bail or dispense with bail applies instead of the requirement that the accused person show cause why the accused person’s detention is not justified.

(3) Subject to subsection (1), Division 2 applies to a bail decision made by a court under this section.

(4) This section applies despite anything to the contrary in this Act.

Note – “conviction” also includes a plea of guilty.

“Conviction” is defined in section 4(1) to include a finding of guilt.

This particular section of the Bail Act has been controversial since it came into force, because essentially it means that those who plead guilty or are found guilty of an offence and are likely to receive a full-time custodial sentence must establish “special or exceptional circumstances” in order to be released on bail pending their sentencing hearings. 

The controversy surrounds the fact that the bar for establishing “special or exceptional circumstances” is very high, and the ‘show cause’ provisions within the legislation put the defendant in a position of having to prove they are entitled to bail, rather than the prosecution proving they should be kept behind bars.

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Sonia Hickey

Sonia Hickey is a freelance writer, magazine journalist, and owner of 'Woman with Words'. She has a strong interest in social justice and is a member of the Sydney Criminal Lawyers® content team. Sonia is the winner of the Mondaq Thought Leadership Awards, Spring 2022.

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