SMH: Police officer driving 130km/h without flashing lights or siren before crash, court hears

A police officer was driving at 130km/h in a 70km/h zone without flashing lights or sirens in an attempt to catch up to a driver suspected of being on their phone when he crashed into a Mercedes driven by Gai Vieira, leaving her with a permanent brain injury, a court has heard.

Harry Thomas Little, who joined NSW Police in 2002, is on trial in the NSW District Court accused of dangerous driving causing grievous bodily harm over the incident at Cronulla in Sydney’s south on September 5, 2018.

In an opening statement on Tuesday, prosecutor Carl Young said Mrs Vieira had been turning right onto The Kingsway when her car was hit by Mr Little’s fully-marked Ford Falcon, which had braked in the seconds before the impact, taking its speed from 135 km/h to 87.5km/h.

The impact of the crash left Ms Vieira with injuries “from which she will likely never fully recover”, including a brain injury and a severe disability, Mr Young said.

Mr Young said there was no footage that showed the moment of the crash, because the final eight seconds of the police car’s in-car video was missing. This was likely because the severe braking or the crash itself caused the video cartridge to eject, he said.

According to agreed facts, Mr Little was parked outside Cronulla police station at about 11.50am when another officer broadcast on the police radio that they had seen a Volkswagen driver on their phone on The Kingsway, heading in Mr Little’s direction.

As Mr Little waited behind another driver to turn onto The Kingsway, the Volkswagen went past. By the time he turned onto the street, it was about 20 seconds ahead of him, and he accelerated his police car to 122.8 km/h.

He briefly braked and changed lanes to go around an L-plate driver, before accelerating again. The car was driving at 135.4km/h one to two seconds before the crash. With the anti-lock braking system applied, the car slowed to 87.5km/h at the point of impact.

The crash occurred 25 seconds after Mr Little had turned onto the road.

“The Crown case is this police car did not have its sirens on and did not have its police lights on,” Mr Young said.

He said some witnesses described Ms Vieira as slowing or appearing to stop before the crash, and a reconstruction estimated her speed to be 2.7 km/h. Both cars were checked by mechanics and found to have no defects.

Mr Young said the jury would hear evidence from another police officer that, on the way back to the police station, Mr Little said it “happened so quick I didn’t have time to get my lights on, she just came out in front of me”.

The prosecutor said a key issue in the trial would be whether Mr Little activated the warning lights at all and, if he didn’t, whether he attempted to activate the lights but they didn’t work.

A police sergeant is expected to give evidence that he had experience with pushing the button to turn his police lights on, before realising it had not worked.

Defence barrister Hament Dhanji, SC, said his client made a statement two weeks after the crash in which he said that, to the best of his recollection, he had activated the police car’s warning lights after passing the L-plater.

“In one sense the defence case is very simple: you’ve heard the accused plead not guilty,” Mr Dhanji said.

He said there was no doubt “everyone in this room, including Mr Little, wishes he hadn’t pursued that vehicle” but crashing and causing someone injury does not prove the criminal offence for which he is on trial.

Mr Dhanji said his client had an honest and reasonable belief that his police lights were turned on, and his driving should be judged accordingly.

The trial continues.

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