By Kirra Grimes
“ONE hundred per cent an 86-year-old man who’s made a mistake,” was how police summed up an incident that shocked the Leongatha community last week, in which an out of control car hurtled down the footpath of one of the main shopping strips and destroyed the town cenotaph.
Police say an 86-year-old Leongatha man was attempting to pull into a parking bay outside Thornton’s Bakery on McCartin Street around 9.15am last Thursday, June 13, when he “lost control of the vehicle”.
The car veered along the footpath for about 120 metres before ploughing through the cenotaph outside the Memorial Hall, becoming airborne for several metres, travelling straight through the middle of the town’s busiest roundabout, at the intersection of McCartin and Bair Streets, taking down a fence, and finally coming to a stop outside corner café Sweet Life.
According to bystanders, the driver was
“conscious and talking” when emergency
He was taken to Leongatha Hospital for observation and discharged later that day.
He’s unlikely to be charged in relation to the incident, police sergeant Dale McCahon told media last Thursday afternoon, and whether or not he loses his licence will depend on the results of a medical review.
Sgt McCahon was at pains to reassure
the community that the incident earlier that day had not been a deliberate act, as social media commentators had begun drawing
comparisons with the 2017 Bourke Street
attack when the news broke on Thursday morning.
“We want to stress that it has really got nothing to do with Bourke Street or anything like that. We can’t make that any clearer,” Sgt McCahon said.
“He was parking his car and whether he’s had a medical issue or something’s just gone wrong, we don’t know, we’re still investigating that, but he’s hit the accelerator instead of the brake it would appear.”
Sgt McCahon said he’d had spoken to the driver that afternoon and that he was “fine but very embarrassed about what’s occurred and not quite sure what happened”.
It’s the second time in six months an elderly driver has caused major damage to public property in Leongatha, with the Leongatha Library having to close for repairs after a similar incident on Christmas Day, 2018, when an elderly driver was attempting to park beside the building.
Sgt McCahon would not comment on whether elderly drivers should be subject to stricter or more regular testing, in light of incidents like these.
“We put in the licence reviews and then it’s up to VicRoads and the doctors to decide whether he can drive or not. They’ll take our report into account, but we can’t take his licence off him.
“We’ve strongly recommended he doesn’t drive, and he won’t be driving until that [medical] review’s done.”
Police are still seeking information and anyone who witnessed the crash is urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.
The South Gippsland Shire Council is “hopeful” it will be able to replace the Leongatha cenotaph by Vietnam Veteran’s Day, August 18, 2019, but is “not promising anything,” a spokesperson told the Sentinel-Times last week.
Council will call in a monumental mason to work out what can be salvaged from what’s left of the cenotaph, which displayed the names of veterans mostly of World War One.
The spokesperson said last week it was “too soon to know” what the cost of replacing the memorial would be but that Council was “working on the assumption that the driver’s insurance will cover the cost of repairs”.
There are no plans to move the cenotaph from the forecourt of the Memorial Hall.
‘Shock in the air’
THOSE who witnessed the morning’s events were amazed no one had been injured by the out of control car, and that, apart from the destroyed cenotaph, the incident had left the street with only minor damage.
Daniel Riccardi, proprietor of Discount King on McCartin Street, whose exterior sustained minor damage from the car including a cracked window, said the incident had left “shock in the air”.
“It was very quick,” Mr Riccardi said, standing on the footpath among other stunned shopkeepers hours after the car had been towed away.
“I was standing just outside the door and heard the noise when it hit all the tables and chairs outside the bakery.
“But I didn’t know what it was; it sounded like a cattle truck but more intense.
“I sort of froze at the door, and then ran out and looked up and down the street to see if anyone was injured.
“It’s just crazy; you can see the tyre marks outside the bakery.”
Mr Riccardi’s CCTV camera captured the moment the car came past Discount King, and the footage, posted to social media, has been shared more than 500 times.
“A couple of people had just stepped outside the sushi shop a few doors down. They saw the car up here and jumped back inside just in time,” he said.
“It shakes you up a bit. Especially because I’ve got five-year-old kids running backwards and forwards between our two shops [Discount King and Party Planet]. Luckily, they weren’t here this morning.”