NSW Police have been ordered to pay more than $25,000 to cover the legal costs of a man who had hit and run charges against him withdrawn.
German Olympic and World Champion rower Matthias Ungemach was charged with driving a 4WD towing a trailer full of boats, which police initially alleged struck and killed Antonio ‘Tony” Plati.
Police alleged that Mr Ungemach then left the scene of the incident that occurred in Oliver St, Freshwater in February 2020.
The charges against Mr Ungemach, for which he made a total of seven court appearances at the Manly and Downing Centre local courts, were withdrawn on February 4 by the Office of the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions.
The case was then immediately dismissed in the Downing Centre Local Court by Chief Magistrate Graeme Henson.
Mr Ungemach, 52, the head rowing coach at Mosman Rowing Club and at St Augustine’s College, Brookvale, had been charged with one count each of dangerous driving causing death; fail to stop and assist after vehicle impact causing death and negligent driving occasioning death.
But it is now likely that Mr Plati accidentally walked into the side of the trailer as he crossed the road on a dark, rainy morning.
Mr Plati, a retired greengrocer, had been out for an early morning walk to the beach on February 22, when he was fatally injured.
Police put out a public call for assistance from anyone driving in the vicinity at the time of the incident.
Mr Ungemach, who was driving to a regatta at Penrith, reported to Manly police station on February 23 and provided a statement on his version of the events and told investigators he had no knowledge of a collision with a pedestrian.
Police then formed Strike Force Clarefield to investigate the incident and released CCTV footage of a large 4WD towing a long trailer carrying rowing boats along Oliver St at around the time Mr Plati was injured.
On March 19, police searched the Mosman Rowing Club and seized a the 4WD and the trailer for forensic examination. Then early on July 9, police went to Mr Ungemach’s home and arrested him.
As part of the police case a leading road safety and crash expert was asked to provide a report, tendered to court, on the incident.
Bio-medical and mechanical engineer Michael Griffiths concluded that Mr Plati had likely accidentally walked into the large trailer, after the towing vehicle had passed, as he was crossing the road in dark, rainy conditions.
The report found that Mr Ungemach was not at fault and that his driving was not dangerous, negligent or careless and that it was he would not have felt the impact of the collision while driving.
After the charges were withdrawn, Mr Ungemach applied for costs from NSW Police.
In the Downing Centre Local Court on Thursday, Magistrate Michael Barko ordered that NSW Police pay costs of $25,718. to Mr Ungemach on or before April 5 this year.
Mr Ungemach’s lawyer Arthur Carney told the Manly Daily that his client was pleased with the result.
“Of course he’s happy,” Mr Carney said.
“It was only appropriate that the police pay costs because they had no evidence.
“You’ve got to have some evidence to convict someone.”
The rower told the Manly Daily last month that the withdrawal of the charges had “ended an 11-month nightmare for his family” that included “critical” media coverage and court hearings in which police provided no evidence or witness statements.
Mr Ungemach said the events had been extraordinarily difficult for his family but that his thoughts and sympathies were with the relatives of Mr Plati.
“The experience was at times frightening and hurtful but I can only be grateful that ultimately justice has been done.”
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