Doctor 'repeatedly' warned of dangers before fatal tragedy

NINE people suffered spinal fractures after leaping from a cliff at a dangerous Byron Bay waterhole in the three years before a man died there in 2014, a coronial inquest has heard.

Brendan Vickery, 20, was presumed to have drowned in February 2014 while swimming in the Island Quarry waterhole off Ewingsdale Rd shortly after jumping in from a height of 8.5m.

The native Victorian resurfaced after jumping, and was last seen clutching the bottom edge of the cliff face and complaining about feeling weak before he disappeared into the water.

The NSW Coroner's Court inquest into Mr Vickery's death, held in Byron Bay Local Court yesterday and Monday, has examined various circumstances around the tragedy including medical factors, and the management of the land.

Yesterday the court heard that former Tweed hospital head of emergency department Dr Rob Davies had warned repeatedly about the dangers of the site in the years before the fatal tragedy.

The summer seasons of 2011-12 and 2013-14 were particularly bad, with nine people admitted to emergency departments - six who sustained serious spinal fractures.

The court heard one boy almost drowned after being knocked unconscious upon hitting the water, and only survived because he was pulled from the murky water by friends.

A lack of proper fencing was formally identified as a safety issue in January 2012 by the Department of Lands, but it took another two years before a proper security fence was built - within weeks of Mr Vickery's death in early 2014.

At that time, the court heard the quarry entrance was unfenced and was often visited by 150 people a day, many of them backpackers. While the waterhole itself had a makeshift 1.2m fence around the cliff in line with the Swimming Pool Act, it was easily climbed by adults.

Chairperson of Island Quarry Reserve Trust Shane Rennie told the court that "our vigilance on trying to keep people out just grew and grew and grew" in the years after 2011.

Asked by the lawyer representing Mr Vickery's family, David Evenden, why it took so long to build the fence, Mr Rennie described various bureaucratic delays after it applied for funding in 2012.

Funding became available in early 2013, but various quotes for the job came back incorrect and over budget and the trust had to seek extra funding.

By that time, the summer of 2013-14 had rolled around, which saw more injuries and ended with Mr Vickery's tragic death.

Since then, however, the court heard that the number of trespassers on the site has slowed down to a trickle.

Various signs surround the site warning not to trespass, and a 1.8m fence bars entry from Ewingsdale Rd.

An additional 1.8m security fence surrounds the cliff edge of the water hole.

The Island Quarry Reserve Trust has also just received funding to build an additional length of security fence on its western boundary.

Mr Rennie told the court that now only members of the Trust were allowed access to the site, and they were 30-35 members.

Acting Deputy State Coroner Teresa O'Sullivan is expected to hand down her findings into Mr Vickery's death early next year.



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