Police deny sending car on death plunge down bank

By John Cousins -
Scene of fatal car crash on Mountain Road where Levi Penberthy-Green died.
Scene of fatal car crash on Mountain Road where Levi Penberthy-Green died.

The driver of a Greerton police patrol car has denied nudging the Nissan Cifero, which plunged down a bank and killed its driver, Levi Penberthy-Green.

Constable Edward (Timoti) Gardiner was giving evidence in the Coroner's inquest into the death at Oropi of Mr Penberthy-Green on April 11, 2015.

The constable, who graduated from police college nine months earlier, said he and his training officer Constable Tanerahi Keno were given a "priority one" job following reports of disorder including bottle throwing and an assault at a Mountain Rd party.

On the way up Mountain Rd, he noticed a white car in the distance going quite slow and without rear lights. Constable Keno turned on the siren which automatically set off the warning lights when they were within 30m to 40m of the car.

Constable Gardiner said the white car then accelerated and pulled away from the police car. They only had time to radio in a failing to stop message and for Constable Keno to tell the driver to keep a safe distance before the car being pursued left the road.

"From lights on to the car going over the bank was less than 15 seconds. It happened very fast," Constable Gardiner said.

Constable Keno's evidence collaborated his statement that the police car did not clip the Cefiro - an accusation made by lawyer Pam McMillan acting for the mother of the deceased, Donna Penberthy.

Earlier witnesses had testified to hearing a bang as they stood by the roadside gate near the woolshed party, and seeing the car leave the road with the flashing police car close behind.

Mr Penberthy-Green had been driving slowly because he was on his cellphone to a friend at the party who had urged him not to return to the party which had ended in fighting and other violence that included a person being taken to hospital after being hit by a car accelerating through the crowd as the driver allegedly fled for his own safety. The driver was not Mr Penberthy-Green.

A recording of police communications messages around the relevant time was played to Coroner Michael Robb. It confirmed a failing to stop message had been called in by Constable Keno, followed by him saying that the car had gone over the bank.

Their testimony, and the evidence of plain clothes Detective Graham Dunn driving an unmarked car countered sightings by other witnesses that a mufti police car had been behind the Cifero.

While Constable Keno scrambled down the bank to the car, Constable Gardiner stayed on the road where he said the gathering crowd became very hostile, saying "f... the pigs" and "f... they killed our mate."

He said he called for back-up. "It did not look good."

Constable Gardiner denied the allegation put to him by police lawyer David Pawson that the police car "nudged the deceased's vehicle over the bank". He said it was dark and the road was damp.

Ms McMillan asked why they were sidetracked into pulling over a car without tail lights when they were on a priority one callout.

Constable Gardiner said it was pitch black and a car without tail lights was a danger to the occupants and everyone else on the road. "I had to stop the vehicle . . . we were not going quick, and I thought it would be a routine traffic stop."

He said he heard the white car revving loudly and pull away. He said the banging must have been the noise of the car going down the hill.

Ms McMillan then produced evidence which showed the warrant-of-fitness of the car they drove that night had expired five days earlier. Mr Gardiner said he had not been aware of that.

She put it to Constable Keno that the subsequent warrant of fitness inspection had shown ''some degree of faults including brakes''. He replied that there was nothing of any concern that he knew about.

St John Ambulance deputy medical director Dr Craig Ellis said Mr Penberthy-Green's injuries were unsurvivable and it would not have mattered if he had reached the hospital in five minutes.

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