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Townsville Mayor Jenny Hill found not guilty over crash that killed motorcyclist

ABC NEWS logo ABC NEWS 18/08/2021
a woman standing in front of a fence: Ms Hill outside the court after pleading not guilty. (ABC News: Chloe Chomicki) © Provided by ABC NEWS Ms Hill outside the court after pleading not guilty. (ABC News: Chloe Chomicki)

Townsville Mayor Jenny Hill has been found not guilty of driving without due care and attention in a crash that claimed the life of a 33-year-old motorcyclist in January last year.

After a lengthy hearing, Magistrate Ross Mack delivered his verdict, discharging Ms Hill over the fatal crash. 

Darryl Andrew Lynch, 33, was killed when his motorbike collided with Ms Hill's car at an intersection in Aitkenvale, a suburb in the north Queensland city.

A hearing with several witnesses took place at the Townsville Magistrates Court today, with public interest so large a second court room had to be opened.

The court heard that Mr Lynch was affected by methylamphetamine at the time of the crash, had run a red light and was driving over the speed limit — at between 85 and 102 kilometres per hour.

CCTV vision of the fatal crash was shown in court and later released to the media.

"I accept that Ms Hill has entered the intersection while facing an amber light, it does not, to my mind, exhibit undue care and attention," Magistrate Mack said.

"What Ms Hill could not have made an assessment was the speed of which Mr Lynch approached the intersection.

"I am unable to conclude beyond reasonable doubt that Ms Hill drove without due care and attention."

Magistrate Mack said the driving of Mr Lynch was "inherently dangerous".

"His own motorcycle was the cause of his death," he said.

"The defendant is found not guilty of the charges and is discharged."

'Taken a toll'

In a short statement to the media outside court, Ms Hill said she was pleased the "right" decision was made and now wants to put the matter to rest.

"Despite believing in the correctness of today's result, this remains a very sad case," she said.

"The circumstances that you have heard about today are tragic and I understand the grief of Mr Lynch's family."

Ms Hill admitted that while she was determined not to let the case interfere with her role in local government, it had taken a toll.

"My husband and kids have been a great support for me over the past year.

"I also wish to thank the Townsville community you have been amazing over the past year with your kindness and messages of support I want to thank you for the trust you continue to place in me as Mayor.

"I am now putting this matter behind me there is much to do and I'll be back at work Monday morning getting on with the job."

Earlier, police prosecutor Darryn Casson played footage of Mr Lynch travelling down several roads leading up to the crash.

It showed vehicles stopping at a red light and Mr Lynch's motorbike running that red light and colliding with the left-hand side of Ms Hill's car, which was making a turn.

Family members of Mr Lynch wept in the courtroom watching the footage of the collision.

Mayor using phone at time of collision

Body-worn camera footage showed Ms Hill speaking to police directly after the crash.

"I was on the phone … hands-free, just discussing emergency stuff," she told officers.

"All the cars I thought had stopped.

"I saw him, it was too late, he was flying. He saw me and it was too late."

Ms Hill was also asked whether she had a green light to make the turn.

"I was talking [on the phone]," she replied.

Police prosecutor Darryn Casson said Ms Hill's response proved she was not paying attention "because she couldn't tell officers what light she had".

Mr Casson said the case against Ms Hill was that she drove without due care and attention by not stopping at an amber light while in a conversation on her hands-free mobile phone.

"The objective test relates to the driving of Councillor Hill, not the driving of Mr Lynch,” he said.

"She either didn’t understand the question or she didn’t know what the light colours are.

 "A prudent driver would have stopped."

Motorcycle 'revving' before crash

Ten witnesses told the court they saw the motorbike run a red light prior to the crash, then saw it swerve between traffic to get to the front of the line and rev up.

Mr Lynch was driving behind Mark Wrobel.

The court heard that Mr Wrobel was about halfway through the two intersections before the light started to turn orange and red.

The court heard that Mr Wrobel told police at the scene that "I think the light would have been red for about two seconds" before the motorcyclist entered the intersection.

Another witness, Rachel Testa, said Mr Lynch had cut her off prior to the crash.

"He was driving pretty erratically, swerving in and out of traffic, he cut in in front of my car,” she said.

"He stopped in front of me, he pulled out into the far left lane, you could hear him drop the whole motorbike down a gear and he took off."

'It was deafening'

Witness Anna Smith said she feared a collision was going to happen when she heard the bike while traffic was stationary.

"I could hear the bike revving up, I saw the light go red, I heard the bike take off, and I held my breath for dear life,” she said.

"I heard it, it broke my heart — it was deafening."

Defence barrister Saul Holt QC told the court the case against Ms Hill "had fallen well short".

He said Ms Hill's right turn from Nathan Street to Alfred Street was timed "perfectly", based on a subsequent green light seen on CCTV on Alfred Street.

"The nature of the deceased's driving here, the heavy accelerated choice to go through a red light, is not one a prudent driver is required to anticipate," he said.

Off-duty doctors tried to save Mr Lynch's life but he was pronounced dead at hospital shortly after.

Nine months later, Ms Hill was charged with driving without due care and attention.

The courtroom was packed with Mr Lynch's family members and supporters for Ms Hill.

Townsville councillors Maurie Soars and Russ Cook and retired councillor Coleen Doyle attended the hearing.

The number of people in court exceeded COVID-19 restrictions and a second courtroom had to be set up.

Police had to warn attendees that disturbances would not be tolerated due to arguments in the gallery.


Video: Mayor Jenny Hill appears in court over fatal car accident (ABC NEWS)

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