Jury members in the Dominic Hodal trial view the scene of the May 2009 crash on the New England Highway yesterday.
Jury members in the Dominic Hodal trial view the scene of the May 2009 crash on the New England Highway yesterday. Dave Noonan

Inattention may have caused crash

THE circumstances leading up to a tragic car crash which left three teenagers dead and another two seriously injured could be put down to less than a second of driver inattention, it was argued before Toowoomba District Court yesterday.

Referring to vehicle crash expert evidence put before the Dominic Anthony Hodal trial, defence Barrister Jeff Hunter submitted that Hodal's inattention in allowing the right wheel of his 1989 Ford Fairlane to drift on to the gravel shoulder of the New England Highway amounted to between 0.7 and 0.8 of a second.

Crash investigation expert Robert Ruller found Hodal had then over-corrected in trying to get the car back on to the bitumen and had veered across the road on to a gravel driveway, from which time an accident was inevitable.

Mr Hunter said that from the time his client's wheels had momentarily drifted off the road to “the point of no return” when the car struck the gravel driveway across the road was estimated at between 2.24 and 2.56 seconds.

There was no alcohol, no speed and no drugs involved in the accident, which Mr Hunter described as a “very brief momentary inattention that had tragic consequences”.

That crash, about 10pm on May 2, 2009, had cost the lives of Hodal's friends William Hutchison, 16, Hamish Stewart, 17, and Henry Keevers, 16, and left fellow teenagers Tim Coonan and Nicholas Bergen seriously injured.

In her closing address to the jury yesterday, Crown prosecutor Sarah Farnden said the Crown had to prove that Hodal knew two of his mates, Nicholas Bergen and Hamish Stewart, were in the boot of the car.

Mr Hunter argued that there had been no evidence during the trial that anyone had seen any boys getting into the boot and no conversation had been heard about anyone getting into the boot.

What was so surprising about a couple of young men playing a joke and getting into the boot, he asked the jury.

However, Ms Farnden argued that the two boys would not have climbed into the boot had not all the seats inside the car been taken by the others.

She reminded the jury that the boot could be opened by two ways, a pushbutton on the dashboard to the right of the steering wheel inside the driver's door or manually by car key.

She said the only reasonable inference was that Hodal had let the boys into the boot and therefore knew they were there when he drove off.

Ms Farnden argued that in driving with two people in the boot at night on a main highway, driving at highway speed and the manner of driving leading up to the crash pointed to Hodal being guilty of dangerous driving.

She told the jury that video footage taken on Henry Keevers' phone inside the car that night, just seconds before the crash, which was played to the court, showed a hand coming from the boot and that a voice was allegedly heard saying “they're in the boot”.

Ms Farnden submitted the defendant had not kept a proper lookout when driving and had failed to keep the car on the road.

The area of the crash scene along the New England Highway was blocked in both directions for about half an hour yesterday while the jury viewed the scene.

The jury of 10 women and two men is expected to retire to consider its verdict after Judge Tony Rafter SC completes his summing up of the case this morning.

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