Stephanie King and her children, Ella-Jane, Chloe, and Jacob Kabealo were travelling in a car that skidded into the Tweed River in 2017. An inquest into the deaths of Stephanie and two of her children, Ella-Jane and Jacob, has begun.
Stephanie King and her children, Ella-Jane, Chloe, and Jacob Kabealo were travelling in a car that skidded into the Tweed River in 2017. An inquest into the deaths of Stephanie and two of her children, Ella-Jane and Jacob, has begun. Facebook

Dad revealed how 'world collapsed' after fatal crash

THE nine-year-old sole survivor of a fatal crash in the days after the 2017 flood has been described as an "absolute champion", the coroners court has heard.

Stephanie King, 43, was driving her three children along Dulguigan Rd in North Tumbulgum when their van slipped into the Tweed River.

Ms King and two of her children, Ella-Jane, 11, and Jacob, seven, did not survive the crash.

The children's father Mathew Kabealo told the inquest court in a witness statement read out by Detective Senior Constable Scott Wilcox on Wednesday his "world collapsed" the day of the accident.

Mr Kabealo spoke of the loss he's suffered but was thankful he still had his daughter.

"She showed resilience and strength above and beyond years," he said in his statement.

"You are truly my rock. Our home life has changed but together we will make a new life, you are an absolute champion and you excel in everything.

"The hurt I feel every day is crippling.

"I will never get over this but will try my hardest to get on with it for the sake of my beautiful daughter."

Mr Kabealo said the loss of his partner, Stephanie, and his two other children would never subside but recalled fondly the memories they shared together.

"Every day was a celebration and Steph celebrated every day.

"She was a hero and my best friend and will always be remembered as the life of the party.

"My first-born daughter Ella-Jane wise beyond her years.

"We saw her perform twice at the Opera House in her short life. She was also academic.

"She loved to read books, Ella-Jane was an absolute delight for Steph and I.

"My younger son we didn't have for long but he completed our family perfectly.

"All memories, I'll cherish forever but forever will only be memories."

Stephanie's brother, John King, told the court he hoped this inquest would provide "a positive outcome" in order "to prevent he pain and loss we've discovered as a family" for other in the community.

The coroners court heard Tweed Shire Council was responsible for ensuring residents knew the possible dangers of driving on flood impacted roads during the 2017 flood disaster.

Acting counsel Dr Peggy Dwyer told the coroner's court over the three-day inquest the court had heard Tweed Shire Council "were under prepared and under resourced to deal with road closures" during April 2017 flood event.

In her recommendations to the coroner, Dr Dwyer said she would suggest the council consider conducting a study of roads in the shire they are responsible for in order to assess potential hazards in post flood circumstances.

Dr Dwyer also recommended the council updates its standard operating procedures for its works officers so they actively look for the risk of mud and silt on the road following floods and erect a warning sign at the southern and northern side of Dulguigan Rd warning motorists of the hazards of mud and silt following floods.

She hoped council would also conduct further community education programs to ensure residents were aware of the hazards of driving on roads where water has receded.

Dr Dwyer said, while Stephanie King was not to have known the dangers of the road, the council should have made efforts to ensure residents knew there could be hazards following the flood, like mud and silt.

"It is true this is flooding that hadn't been experienced in at least 40 years," Dr Dwyer said.

"That area had been subject to more minor and still hazardous flooding.

"Dulguigan Rd was covered in water, and therefore unpassable and should have been closed was entirely foreseeable and should have been closed."

Dr Dwyer said she also hoped council would continue to improve their flood spotters program, which relies on community members to make contact with council if they see a problem with a road due to flooding.

Original story: A COURT has heard how the gaps in the dissemination of information of potential road closures during the 2017 flooding disaster could have had hindered public knowledge about whether the road where a mother and her three children skidded off into Tweed River was open or closed.

During day three of the inquest into the deaths of Stephanie King, 43, and two of her three children, Ella-Jane, 11 and Jacob, seven, who drowned when their car left Dulguigan Rd, North Tumbulgum, days after the ex-Tropical Cyclone Debbie flooding disaster, two witnesses gave evidence into how information about road closures was circulated amongst relevant agencies.

As owners of Dulguigan Rd, Tweed Shire Council's manager of roads and stormwater, Danny Rose, told the court he was responsible during the flooding event to update the council website on certain local road closures.

Mr Rose said he was reliant on information provided from his field officers, SES and police and also online websites such as Live Traffic and My Roads, which alerts people to varying road closures.

Referring to a council program called the flood spotters program, which sees residents contacting council with any roads flooded they see, Counsel Assisting Dr Peggy Dwyer asked Mr Rose whether the program was in effect during the time of the floods.

Mr Rose said while the program was active, he did not proactively use it as an instrument to find out whether roads were flooded.

He also added that council did not receive any calls from anyone listed on the program, especially near Dulguigan Rd.

"It would have been great if we'd got calls from those people," Mr Rose said.

More to come.

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