Cop sent texts to Bourke St driver
Victorian police exchanged more than 20 text messages with James Gargasoulas and spoke to him on the phone for half an hour, sending him a message to “stop” as he did burnouts at Flinders Street Station ahead of an incident in which six people died.
On the first day of his trial for six counts of murder and 27 counts of reckless conduct endangering life, the Victorian Supreme Court heard that as Mr Gargasoulas did the donuts, he taunted police, shouting, “Look, they can’t do anything, they can’t stop me, they’re nothing”, and urged them to “come on, come and get me you c..ts”.
In an emotionally charged opening in a courtroom filled with family and friends of the victims, Director of Public Prosecutions Kerri Judd played footage of the incident, which showed people being flung in the air after being hit by the car.
“The car ploughed into people — infants, small children, shoppers, students, city workers on lunch hour, young and old,” Ms Judd said. The youngest victim, three-month-old Zachary Matthew-Bryant, was found 68m from the pram in which he was being pushed.
Mr Gargasoulas has pleaded not guilty to six counts of murder over the deaths of Zachary; Tahlia Hakin, 10; Jessica Mudie, 23; Yosuke Kanno, 25; Matthew Si, 33; and Bhavita Patel, also 33.
Ms Judd told the court police had tracked him across Melbourne in a stolen Holden Commodore, with Detective Senior Constable Murray Gentner urging him to stop.
“It’s not looking good,” Mr Gargasoulas texted the officer. “I either die in jail or I die trying to run from the boys of which I’m one of them.”
The last text message from Constable Gentner was at 1.32pm and just one word: “stop”.
At 1.33pm Mr Gargasoulas turned left into the Bourke Street Mall, allegedly murdering six people, and injuring dozens.
The court heard details of the last moments of the deceased. Si had shared a final lunch with his wife while Tahlia had been on her way to a magic show with her mother and sister.
Defence barrister Theo Alexander told the court Mr Gargasoulas would give evidence.
“He says that he had a very important reason or reasons for what happened on 20 January 2017,” Dr Alexander said.
“Mr Gargasoulas for better or
for worse is absolutely committed to his explanation and, as another jury found him fit to stand trial, he is accordingly entitled to say what he wishes about the offences with which he has been charged.”
Dr Alexander said that Mr Gargasoulas was “not a well man”, had a mental illness, and at the time of the alleged offending was in a drug-induced psychosis.
“But to be clear, as a matter of law neither his current mental illness not previous drug-induced psychosis can amount to a defence,” he said.
He said Mr Gargasoulas had pleaded not guilty despite agreeing to essentially all of the facts necessary to establish the charges.
The court heard that police had pursued Mr Gargasoulas for hours before he turned left into the Bourke Street Mall from Swanston Street.
“I’m going to do something drastic, take everyone out,” he told a friend at 2.50am.
“They can suffer the consequences. Watch me. You will see me tonight on the news.
“The police have stopped me before but they ain’t going to get me this time.”
Ms Judd told the court that Mr Gargasoulas had a friend with him in the car during some of the pursuit, before he reached the city.
“I swear, if they catch up to me, I’m gonna to run everyone down in the city,” he told the girl after police tried to pull him over about 11.30am in South Melbourne.
Ms Judd told the court: “The pursuit was called off due to safety concerns and in line with the existing pursuit policy.”
Ms Judd said a Critical Incident Response Team unit observed Mr Gargasoulas’s car stopped in traffic at the Wurundjeri Way West Gate Freeway entry intersection at 11.37am.
She said police approached the car on foot with firearms drawn.
Mr Gargasoulas pushed his friend out of the car and drove straight towards the police, forcing them to jump out of the way.
The court heard police including Constable Gentner reached Mr Gargasoulas again when he was performing donuts at the Flinders and Swanston streets intersection.
“We decided we had to get there to prevent any accidents,” Constable Gentner said, adding that people were cheering and applauding Mr Gargasoulas when they arrived.
He said police put their cars between Mr Gargasoulas and the crowd so his car would hit the police vehicles if he lost control.
Mr Gargasoulas was shot in the arm and tasered during the arrest.
The court heard that Mr Gargasoulas made a “no comment” in his police interview but told a registered psychiatric nurse at the Melbourne Assessment Prison that it wasn’t his fault. “I know I f..ked up but it wasn’t my fault,” he said.
“The accelerator got stuck and the cops were chasing me. What was I to do?”
The trial continues before judge Mark Weinberg and a jury.