An 18-year-old has gained national attention after being charged with dangerous driving occasioning death.

Tyrell Edwards was refused bail at Picton Local Court after being involved in a car crash that killed five teenagers in south-west of Sydney.

The labourer claimed that a steering malfunction caused the accident.

However, police allege that their expert evidence from the scene of the collision is not consistent with this.

Tyrell Edwards Charged with Dangerous Driving Causing Death

Edwards made a bail application at Picton Local Court before Magistrate Mark Douglas. The facts sheet set out that he claimed a steering fault was responsible for the crash.

He told police that the vehicle began "shaking, going left to right". He said once the shaking began, he could not control the car.

"He stated that he attempted to brake, however the vehicle did not significantly slow," the police facts allege.

However, investigators claim they have evidence that this was not the cause of the crash.

The court heard the 18-year-old filmed himself driving dangerously 67 minutes before his ute hit a tree, killing all five of his passengers. The video shows him driving with two of the passengers.

Edwards appears to be holding the phone, while aggressively turning the steering wheel, as loud music plays. A male in the car can be heard saying: "We're going to spin out cuz."

Prosecutors told the court that the footage supported elements of the offences and showed a high level of moral culpability.

Witnesses claim that after the collision Edwards said, "I f-- up, I'm going to jail".

Police suggest that, "the roadway evidence documented at the collision scene is not consistent with the accused's version."

The prosecution case is that Edwards drove at speed and lost control of the vehicle, causing it to cross onto the wrong side of the road. Investigators opined that the vehicle travelled along a grassy road shoulder for about 40 metres before the ute rotated clockwise for another 50 metres.

The prosecution case is that at some point it hit a tree and then rotated in a counter clockwise direction before colliding with a second tree.

The force of the two collisions ripped open the ute cabin. The rear seat was dislodged which threw the passengers from the vehicle. Their bodies were located nearby.

Bail Application Refused

The court also heard that Edwards had two prior speeding offences despite having held a licence for a short period of time.

Prosecutors claimed that he was at risk of tampering with witnesses due to his strong ties to the community. It is unclear what the basis of this submission was, given the prosecution case appears to rest on their expert evidence.

Edwards dangerous driving lawyers submitted that he was, "significantly traumatised". Edwards completed year 11 at Picton High School in 2021. He now works as a labourer.

He has previously suffered from anxiety and has sought psychological treatment for the illness.

He was arrested on Wednesday after being released from hospital where he was treated for non-life threatening injuries.

In refusing the bail application for dangerous driving occasioning death, Magistrate Douglass said his decision was "not made easily".

The matter has been adjourned until November. Edwards will not be able to make a further release application in the Local Court unless his lawyers can satisfy Section 74 of the Bail Act 2013. This requires

However, he will be able to make a Supreme Court bail application.

What is Dangerous Driving Occasioning Death?

Dangerous driving occasioning death is an offence under section 52A of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) which has a maximum penalty of ten years' imprisonment.

To be found guilty of this offence, the prosecution must prove that you drove a vehicle when it was involved in an impact which caused the death of another person.

'Dangerous' is defined as being under the influence of alcohol/drugs or driving at a speed or in a manner that is dangerous.

There is also an offence of aggravated dangerous driving occasioning death. The prosecution will have to prove that you were driving with either:

  • high range prescribed concentration of alcohol;
  • substantially impaired by the influence of a drug;
  • exceeding the speed limit by 45km/hr or more;
  • attempting to escape police.

For an aggravated offence, the maximum penalty increases to fourteen years imprisonment.

Defences

The following defences apply to the offence of dangerous driving causing death:

  1. honest and reasonable mistake: for example, if the vehicle has a mechanical defect that the accused is not aware of and should not reasonably be aware of.
  2. you were not driving the vehicle: this will require you to argue that you were not 'in control of the steering, movement or propulsion of a vehicle' ( Road Transport Act 2013 s 4(1)). This includes stopping or starting the vehicle in any way, such as releasing the brakes (R v Affleck (1992) 65 A Crim R 96, 98)
  3. Causation: that the impact did not cause death.
  4. You were not under the influence of alcohol or drugs. This is based on whether your ability to manage and control a motor vehicle is impaired by self-induced intoxication.
  5. Your driving was not 'dangerous': this is based on factors such as the time of day, weather, nature of the road surface and the general surroundings. This is an objective test that does not take into account any personal characteristics of you or your belief at the time of impact. The prosecution must prove that you 'so seriously' failed to properly control and manage the vehicle, that it created a 'real danger' of harm to other persons, 'far exceeding' that which arises from the normal use of a motor vehicle.
  6. Duress: you were forced to commit the offence
  7. Necessity: you had to commit the offence in the circumstances

Dangerous driving causing death is a strict liability offence (Jiminez v The Queen (1992) 173 CLR 572). This means that the prosecution does not have to prove you intended to drive dangerously or cause the death of another person.

The prosecution also does not have to prove that you were controlling the vehicle at the time of impact. If your manner of driving immediately prior the impact was dangerous, this may be sufficient for the prosecution (Williams v The Queen (2012) 229 A Crim R 67).

An 'impact' has a broad definition. It includes an impact between your vehicle and another object or person, your vehicle overturning, and a person while in or on the vehicle. If your vehicle causes another vehicle to be involved in an impact, this will also fall under this definition.

Aggravated Dangerous Driving Occasioning Death

Aggravated dangerous driving occasioning death is an offence where in addition to the elements of the offence above, a circumstance of aggravation is also present:

  • Your BAC level was 0.15g/100ml or higher; or
  • You were driving more than 45km/h over the speed limit; or
  • You were driving to escape police pursuit; or
  • Your ability to drive was very substantially impaired because you were under the influence of a drug (other than alcohol) or a combination of drugs (this can include alcohol).

Can you go to jail for dangerous driving occasioning death?

Yes, you can go to jail for dangerous driving occasioning death. You can face up to ten years' imprisonment for the basic offence and fourteen years for the aggravated offence. There is also a guideline judgment for these offences which means that full-time imprisonment is a very strong possibility.

Guideline Judgement for Dangerous Driving Occasioning Death

When imposing a sentence for Dangerous Driving causing death, the Court must bear in mind the matters which were set out in the guideline judgement of R v Whyte [2002] NSWCCA.

The guideline held that in an ordinary case, a court must impose a term of full-time imprisonment unless the offender has a low level of criminal responsibility for the accident such as momentary inattention or misjudgement.

What is an ordinary case of Dangerous Driving causing Death?

The following characteristics make up the typical offender in an ordinary case:

  • young offender
  • of good character with no or limited prior convictions
  • death or permanent injury to a single person
  • the victim is a stranger
  • no or limited injury to the driver or the driver's intimates
  • genuine remorse
  • plea of guilty of limited utilitarian value.

Further, the Court should impose a penalty of at least 3 years imprisonment for this charge where the offender's criminal responsibility is high.

The circumstances which can increase your criminal responsibility include:

  • extent and nature of the injuries inflicted
  • number of people put at risk
  • degree of speed
  • degree of intoxication or of substance abuse
  • erratic or aggressive driving
  • competitive driving or showing off
  • length of the journey during which others were exposed to risk
  • ignoring of warnings
  • escaping police pursuit
  • degree of sleep deprivation
  • failing to stop.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.