Step brothers who set off on a road trip to get legal advice about the affairs of their father – deceased in a road accident 4 days earlier – were themselves injured in a single vehicle calamity in which each claimed the other had been driving.
Chris Bezer and Troy Bassan met in country NSW after their father died in a motor accident there in September 2012.
About 20 km into the morning drive from Mendooran to Dubbo to consult a lawyer about their father’s estate, their ute hurtled off the highway into a gully, tumbling end on end for about 50 m and rolling a number of times before it came to rest.
Troy – 10 years his step brother’s junior – had moderate injuries to his very slight frame but was able to climb out of the vehicle and call for assistance.
Chris – who was then 29 yrs and carrying about 120 kg – was severely injured and had to be extracted from the ute by the emergency crew.
The absence of any skidmarks on the road raised the suspicion that the driver had fallen asleep. Examination of the vehicle indicated the front passenger seat belt had been worn by one of the occupants but the driver side seatbelt had not been worn at all.
The younger of the pair initially told police and ambulance officers that he had been the driver.
He was ambulanced to Dubbo Hospital where nursing staff observed a severe bruise on his left shoulder and across his chest to his right hip. Troy volunteered the bruising was from the seatbelt that had “saved his life”.
He also told his sister while at hospital, that he had not in fact been the vehicle’s driver.
When this news reached his mother, she took him to Dubbo police to inform the investigating officers that he had not been driving at the time of the crash and showed them his seatbelt bruising.
He quoted to them Chris’ request as they both lay in the wreck: “Mate I don’t have a licence, can you say you were driving for insurance reasons”.
Chris’s account was that he was driving when they set out on the journey but he soon asked the younger Troy to drive due to fatigue. They changed positions and recommenced the trip with Chris asleep in the reclined passenger front seat.
After a trial occupying 25 hearing days, Judge Susan Gibb concluded in her 100 page judgement, that Chris had been the driver.
Chris appealed, contending that Troy’s initial statements about having been at the wheel was the true account of the accident and that he changed his story only after coercion from his mother.
For the appeal to be successfully Chris had to overcome a considerable body of evidence including that the seatbelt extension – at the crease point – was insufficient to have allowed it to span his “considerable girth”.
Also telling, the bruises on Troy’s shoulder and chest were consistent with him having been in the passenger seat whereas Chris bore no such welts, consistent with him having been in the driver’s seat without any seatbelt worn.
What proved insurmountable however was overcoming the primary judge’s conclusion that his evidence was “riddled with false statements” and admissions of having made false declarations.
Notwithstanding some significant errors by the trial judge as to the conduct the trial, the appeal judges were of the view that those errors were not material. Her conclusion that Chris had been driving at the time of the accident was the only rational outcome that could have been reached having regard to all the evidence presented.