The accident scene near Cunningham's Bridge, on December 19, 2007.
The accident scene near Cunningham's Bridge, on December 19, 2007. Coffs Coast Advocate

Red Shore verdict due

A BLINK of an eye changed Jamie Hope's life forever, and today the fate of the 23-year-old musician rests in the hands of a jury.

On trial, accused of causing the deaths of two of his fellow band members, Hope has told the court: 'I have never blamed anyone else for the crash'.

The heavy metal rocker was at the wheel when his touring band The Red Shore from Geelong met with tragedy.

He said he last remembers driving on the highway then coming to after the accident.

The rented mini van they were travelling in had left the Pacific Highway near Moonee, north of Coffs Harbour, careered down an embankment, rolled several times and crashed into a tree.

On that fateful day - December 19, 2007 - two of the band's members, lead singer Damien Morris and roadie Andy Milner, lost their lives. What followed were the funerals, an extensive police investigation and now the trial, where Hope is facing five counts of dangerous driving causing death and injury.

After eight days of evidence and various witness statements, the jury will today deliberate before handing down its verdict.

The district court has heard how the band was touring the country, attempting to reach Sydney after playing a gig in Brisbane the night before.

Police investigators found there was a lack of brake marks at the crash scene, while the van was later cleared of mechanical defect.

It was proven at the time of the crash Hope had not been speeding and tests showed he didn't have alcohol or drugs in his system.

In its parting address yesterday, crown prosecutors claimed the only presumable cause was that Hope fell asleep at the wheel.

“I put to you (the jury) as a proposition that the accused simply must have been tired.

It was also claimed that Hope had 'sugar coated' his evidence.

Meanwhile, Hope's defence lawyer barrister Stephen Loomes argued that there were many factors that needed to be taken into account. “There are circumstances that surround this whole tragic event... no one can say exactly what happened on the road,” he said. Mr Loomes said the crash happened at the end of merging lanes, so it was plausible Hope could have taken his eyes off the road to check a rear vision mirror.

The court heard how the band used a system on their tour whereby the 'band member riding shotgun' kept an eye on the driver.

The band's guitarist Jason Leombruni took the stand, telling how he survived the horrific crash from the front passenger's seat.

Leombruni, the crown's key witness, had been drinking during and after the gig, and had drifted off at various points of the trip. Hope's defence aimed to discredit his version, unveiling an email, which allegedly showed how he wanted to change his statement to the police to protect his friend from charges.

It was also heard that Hope had pulled over four times between Brisbane and Grafton and 'felt fine' when setting out for Coffs Harbour.


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