SMH: Coroner to examine death of man injured in crash with police car

A coroner is set to examine the manner of driving and actions of a police officer in the minutes before he collided with a vehicle during a Mornington Peninsula pursuit, injuring an elderly man who later died.

Senior Sergeant Stephen Burt from Frankston police station was driving one of two police cars involved in the pursuit of a silver Holden Commodore, which was alleged to have been connected to serious offences on April 14, 2018.

John Wilfred Warner, 79, and his wife Carole were driving with two relatives through the intersection of Old Mornington Road and the Nepean Highway in Mount Eliza when their vehicle collided with the police car being driven by Senior Sergeant Burt.

Counsel assisting the coroner Lindsay Spence said a number of factual disputes were likely to arise during the inquest, including whether Senior Sergeant Burt had his siren on at the time of the pursuit and the manner of his driving immediately prior to the collision.

Mr Warner, who was in the passenger seat, was rushed to hospital in a critical condition but died a month later from his injuries.

During a directions hearing in the Coroners Court of Victoria on Thursday, Mr Spence said police believed the silver Commodore was connected to aggravated burglaries, thefts and the ramming of a police vehicle.

A car of that description was spotted in Frankston by a highway patrol car from Somerville. Senior Sergeant Burt, who was nearby, also heard the broadcast and began following the vehicle.

The Somerville highway patrol unit attempted to intercept the car, but the driver refused to stop and accelerated away, driving on the wrong side of the road. A pursuit was initiated at 8.18pm.

A minute later, the silver car travelled through the intersection of the Nepean Highway and Old Mornington Road in Mount Eliza, followed by the Somerville highway patrol car, Mr Spence said.

Senior Sergeant Burt was an “unknown distance behind” and approached the intersection as the traffic lights were red.

Ms Warner saw the silver Commodore and one police car pass through the intersection at speed before the lights turned green, giving her right of way.

She drove into the intersection and Senior Sergeant Burt’s car collided with the front driver’s side of her car about 8.20pm.

Mr Warner was taken to hospital with fractured ribs and other injuries. He never recovered and died on May 18, 2018.

The court heard that during police interviews, Senior Sergeant Burt said that he had both his lights and sirens activated.

However, the occupants of the car carrying Mr Warner all give evidence that they did not see either flashing lights or hear sirens from Senior Sergeant Burt’s vehicle prior to the collision.

Mr Spence said another “critical factual dispute” would be related to Senior Sergeant Burt’s claim that he saw Ms Warner’s car slow down and appear to be stopping when he approached it, leading him to believe they had seen him.

The inquest could also examine whether the pursuit was initiated, conducted and terminated in line with Victoria Police pursuit policy, Mr Spence said.

Coroner Phil Byrne said the matter will proceed to a formal inquest.

He said his preliminary view was that he had no issues with other officers involved in the pursuit and that the contentious issues were “around primarily, if not exclusively, the performance of Senior Sergeant Burt”.

The crash was investigated by detectives from the major collision investigation unit, with oversight from Professional Standards Command and the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission.

A brief of evidence was provided to the Director of Public Prosecutions, the court was told, but charges were never pursued.

Mr Byrne said unless there was “new, dramatic evidence” which comes out at the inquest, he saw little prospect of re-referral to the DPP.

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