Men jailed over fatal joyride

A GROUP of friends was celebrating the end of an era, but none of them knew it was the beginning of a nightmare.

Two years after a joyride on Sydney Harbour ended in the deaths of six young people, Matthew Reynolds, of Tweed Heads, and Percy Small have been jailed for at least five years.

In the NSW Supreme Court yesterday, Justice Michael Grove said it was important to appreciate the men had not intended such tragic consequences.

“Neither of them intended the collision to happen,” he said.

“Neither of them intended the deaths to follow, but the law requires that, even so, they must answer for their respective culpabilities in causing the deaths.”

The group was celebrating at the Commercial Hotel in Balmain to mark the final night before the pub was handed over to new owners and staff.

The manager of the hotel asked Reynolds, who had access to a boat only for work on the harbour, to take the keys to the new owners in Watsons Bay.

A group of 14 who had been partying at the hotel boarded the boat – only licensed to carry eight – for a frivolous trip on the harbour. After dropping the keys off, Reynolds, who had been drinking and had taken cocaine, handed the helm of the work boat to Small, who admitted to consuming more than 10 beers, cannabis and cocaine.

In the early hours of May 1, 2008, the work boat and a fishing trawler collided, killing Reynolds’ girlfriend Ashlie Ayres, 32, Alexander Rumiz, 22, Jessica Holloway, 25, Elisabeth Holder, 20, Stacey Wright, 21, and Alex Nikakis, 30.

Reynolds was convicted of six counts of manslaughter, and Small six counts of dangerous navigation causing death.

Justice Grove set a maximum term of seven and a half years jail for each man, saying the sentences were not an evaluation of the young lives lost.

“Every life has a value beyond description in mere words,” he said.

“Nor is it my task in some way to avenge the deaths which have occurred, and the memory of each of them can never be gauged against any penalty which is ultimately imposed.”

The judge found Reynolds breached a duty of care as skipper by permitting Small to navigate when he knew, or ought to have known, he was intoxicated, failed to supervise him and failed to keep watch. But once the “significantly affected” Small took the helm, he was himself responsible for the direction of the boat and steering it clear of obstacles, Justice Grove said.

Outside court, Reynolds’ father Charlie said his son was unfairly blamed for the accident and that “boaties beware, not young people”. Ms Wright’s stepfather Laurence Puha held up a laminated photo of her, which family members wore around their necks.

Reynolds and Small will be eligible for parole in early 2015.


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