Mad­ness, then si­lence

Geelong Advertiser - - NEWS - KAREN SWEENEY

FROM across Mel­bourne’s busy Bourke St, Josh Bal­dacchino heard a group of peo­ple shriek­ing as a ma­roon Holden ca­reened along the foot­path to­wards them.

“The car hit them, just like in­sects — thud, thud, thud — peo­ple were be­ing thrown in the air,” the so­lic­i­tor-turned-wit­ness told the Supreme Court yes­ter­day of the hor­ri­fy­ing car ram­page on Jan­uary 20 last year.

The driver, James Garga- soulas, had a cig­a­rette in his mouth, both hands on the wheel and “sim­ply looked like he was go­ing for a reg­u­lar drive”, Mr Bal­dacchino re­called.

Mr Gar­ga­soulas, 28, has ad­mit­ted his driv­ing caused the death or in­jury of 33 peo­ple, but he’s stand­ing trial hav­ing pleaded not guilty to six charges of mur­der and 27 of reck­less con­duct en­dan­ger­ing life.

Mr Bal­dacchino de­scribed a “sur­real, stunned si­lence” af­ter the im­pacts, fol­lowed by the sounds of peo­ple scream­ing in pain.

An­other wit­ness, banker Aaron Jensen, also de­scribed the “hor­ri­fy­ing” noises made by the peo­ple he saw struck out­side the RACV Club.

“I still re­mem­ber it to­day, the sound the bod­ies of th­ese peo­ple be­ing hit and the real thud­ding sound that made,” he said.

One man tried to do a “Su­per­man” ma­noeu­vre out of the path of the car but his legs were hit, send­ing him ric­o­chet­ing over the ve­hi­cle, Mr Jensen said.

He re­called the look of des­per­a­tion in the man’s eyes and sub­se­quently see­ing vic­tims on the ground not know­ing if they were dead or alive.

“It was mad­ness,” De­tec­tive Se­nior Con­sta­ble Adam Bur­nett said. The of­fi­cer was just 100m be­hind as Mr Gar­ga­soulas turned into the pedes­trian mall, ac­cel­er­ated to­wards peo­ple send­ing them run­ning and scream­ing. “I could hear scream­ing straight away. It was mad­ness,” he said.

Ear­lier he’d pur­sued Mr Gar­ga­soulas through South Mel­bourne, un­til the chase was called off over safety con­cerns.

In­stead, he elected to co- vertly fol­low the stolen Holden Com­modore. Po­lice had tried sev­eral times over 12 hours to ar­rest Mr Gar­ga­soulas, in­clud­ing at one point ap­proach­ing his ve­hi­cle near the West Gate Free­way with guns drawn, but each time he drove away.

“I think from ex­pe­ri­ence … there’s a dan­ger to pedes­tri­ans if we pur­sue or try to block him,” Sen-Con­sta­ble Bur­nett told the jury. “Ram­ming with po­lice ve­hi­cles doesn’t al­ways have a good out­come.”

But as the ram­page be­gan the mes­sage over the ra­dio changed — “the car is hit­ting pedes­tri­ans, it must be stopped at all costs”, he re­called.

Mr Gar­ga­soulas was even­tu­ally stopped in Bourke St by a com­bi­na­tion of me­chan­i­cal fail­ure and be­ing rammed by a po­lice car.

De­tec­tive Se­nior Con­sta­ble Murray Gent­ner talked the jury through pho­tos in­clud­ing a baby pram wedged be­tween the Holden’s wind­screen and bon­net. Three-month-old Zachary Matthew-Bryant died af­ter be­ing thrown from the pram, land­ing more than 60m from where it was struck.

The trial con­tin­ues.

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