ACT News

Drunk driver says steering wheel ripped from him in fatal Beclonnen car crash

A drunk driver on trial for a crash that killed his friend has told a packed court that "the steering wheel was ripped out of my hands" before the car hit a tree head-on.

But prosecutors have accused Jamie Michael Richardson, 24, of tailoring his story to fit the evidence against him, and questioned why he said to police "f---ing shoot me, I've killed him", if the crash wasn't his fault.

Jamie Michael Richardson, pictured at the ACT Supreme Court, has appealed his convictions for a drunken crash that ...
Jamie Michael Richardson, pictured at the ACT Supreme Court, has appealed his convictions for a drunken crash that killed his friend. Photo: Rohan Thomson

Richardson and his friends went to the Lighthouse pub in Belconnen on January 31, 2014. They drank and ate and eventually, about 1.30am, left the venue.

Richardson, who has acknowledged he knew he was over the limit, got behind the wheel of a female friend's car.

Two of his other friends, including the 29-year-old victim, were sitting in the back.

At some point, the car left William Slim Drive and smashed into a tree.

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The victim, who was sitting in the rear left hand side of the car, died at the scene, while the woman in the front passenger seat suffered serious injuries.

Police arrived and found Richardson slurring his words, smelling of alcohol, and unsteady on his feet. He initially told them someone else was the driver, but then admitted to being behind the wheel, before asking police to shoot him because he had killed his friend.

He was arrested and later returned a blood-alcohol reading of 0.19, nearly four times the legal limit of 0.05.

The Crown, led by prosecutor Trent Hickey, has accused Richardson of culpable driving causing death and culpable driving causing grievous bodily harm.

But Richardson is fighting the allegations in a jury trial, represented by barrister Jack Pappas​. He argues the wheel was ripped from his grip by the female passenger, and that no one, not even a sober driver, could have avoided the crash.

On Wednesday afternoon, the defence called its crash expert Chris Hall, who gave evidence that the driver had 0.75 of a second, after his likely reaction time, to do something to avoid hitting the tree.

The expert said that was such a short period that the chances of changing the path of the vehicle in any meaningful way were "very remote".

Richardson was called to give evidence on Wednesday morning, before a packed public gallery.

The accused conceded he knew he was too drunk to drive.

He said he couldn't remember how many beers he'd had, but that he felt OK and in control as he was driving.

Before the crash, the car clipped a gutter and the female passenger, who owned the car, repeatedly told him to pull over.

Richardson said the two men in the back told him to ignore her.

He said he had no time to react when she grabbed the wheel.

"Just before the intersection with Dumas Street, the steering wheel was ripped out my hands," he told the court.

"We mounted the curb and collided with the tree."

Mr Pappas asked him whether he managed to regain control of the wheel.

Richardson responded: "I can't recall because it all happened so quickly."

He told the court he remembered seeing his friend struggling to breathe, and slumped forward.

Richardson called triple-0, and described himself as worried and upset.

"I just wanted everyone else to be helped and I was nervous," he said.

He told the court that he went to the victim's parents home on the day of his funeral to explain what had happened.

"It was very emotional," he said.

Mr Pappas asked, "In what way?"

Richardson said, "I believe we were all crying."

Mr Hickey, in cross-examination, asked Richardson why he had told police in the aftermath of the crash to "just do it, f---ing shoot me. I've killed him".

"At that early stage, sir, you realised that it was your driving that caused the crash," Mr Hickey said.

Richardson denied that suggestion.

The accused had first told police that the driver had run from the scene and that he didn't know who it was. He later admitted he was the driver.

Mr Hickey questioned Richardson why, if the passenger had really yanked the wheel, he didn't say that to the police.

"If she grabbed the wheel as you say she did, that must have been a frightening event?" Mr Hickey asked.

"You would have been saying 'get her away from me'?"

"Surely you would have told someone 'she just tried to kill me'?"

Richardson said he had told two other witnesses who had arrived at the scene earlier, although they have already told the court they have no memory of such a statement.

Earlier, Mr Hickey asked the accused whether he had practised his evidence with his lawyers.

"Have you tailored your evidence today so it will fit in with what they [the witnesses] would say?" Mr Hickey asked.

Richardson said he had not.

The trial continues before Chief Justice Helen Murrell on Thursday.