WHEN tragedy strikes at the heart of a community, the grief spreads exponentially, firstly to the immediate family and friends impacted and then it cascades through to the hundreds of other people deeply affected.
The fact is, the whole of the Sunraysia community is in mourning this week.
Such is the impact of the tragedy that occurred last Friday night on Kulkyne Way, 16 km from Red Cliffs, when an unmarked Mildura Highway Patrol car was involved in a head-on collision with a Nissan utility, which had reportedly veered off path.
Senior Constable Bria Joyce, 25, who was driving the police vehicle, was killed and fellow officer, Leading Senior Constable Thomas Kinnane, who was in the front passenger seat, was badly injured. He was flown to the Royal Melbourne Hospital, where he remains in a serious, but stable condition.
The driver of the utility, who was identified as Josh Moore, 23, was also killed. A third vehicle, that was travelling behind the patrol car, impacted the rear of the police vehicle, when the collision occurred.
The occupants of that vehicle, two adult men and three children, were reported to be uninjured, but were conveyed to hospital for assessment.
The Victoria Police family is in mourning again, with tragedy bringing back memories of the death of four police members killed on the Eastern Freeway almost two years ago, on April 22, 2020.
As you would expect, Mildura police are doing it hard in the wake of the tragedy, which has rocked the station.
Members of the community showed their support on social media and many have also placed flowers outside Mildura police station, which was greatly appreciated by local members, who took them inside and spread them throughout the station’s offices.
This week, Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Shane Patton and Police Minister Lisa Neville travelled to Mildura to meet with local police members who had been severely traumatised by the events of Friday night.
Other members of VicPol’s executive command, including Assistant Commissioner Cindy Millen, have also been in Mildura this week.
Commissioner Patton said the community support being shown to the police following the incident was very gratifying to see.
“Whenever we get such a response from the public − the love and support they’ve shown − and genuine care with them dropping in with teddy bears and cards and flowers and even food, expressing their heartfelt grief and thanks to us – it is overwhelming really,” he said.
“And it’s fantastic and it serves to reinforce what I believe to be the case, and that is, that by-and-large, the public are still very much a community that does trust and have confidence in policing albeit we do have ups and downs and highs and lows.
“But generally speaking when you see the overwhelming thanks and community coming together with its police force it is really heartening.”
The Commissioner and Minister Neville expressed their deepest condolences to the friends and family of Constable Joyce and Mr Moore who were grieving their loss.
Commissioner Patton said that it wasn’t only the police who were grieving, the other emergency responders who attended the scene knew Bria and Tom Kinnane.
“It’s not just police. SES responded, Fire Rescue Victoria, paramedics a whole range of services and how traumatic it would have been for them and many of them knew Bria and Tom,” he said.
“And whilst the police family grieves and we support each other, there are all those other organisations who are also grieving together with the family and friends of Bria, who need support which we are providing.
“We need to make sure we provide support to everyone involved and by that I also mean the family and friends of the driver of the utility.”
Senior Constable Joyce had been with Mildura police since 2021 and had been a member of the force for six years.
She came from a country town in New South Wales and had previously lived there with her mother, before moving to Melbourne to join the police.
“I spoke with Bria’s mother last Saturday afternoon and indeed everyone I have spoken to here in Mildura have all said she was an extremely competent and professional officer,” Commissioner Patton said. “Bria was also a very accomplished musician and could play the saxophone and clarinet.
“She finished second in her class in economics during her VCE. She was also super fit. She loved bike riding and running and competed in triathlons − she was an amazing individual.”
Minister Neville said in the short time Bria had been in Mildura she had made her mark and was a central figure at the station.
“Her peers are hurting, there is no doubt about that, there is a lot of hurt and pain she was a much-loved part of the police family up here,” she said.
Commissioner Patton was asked how the local members were bearing up following the tragedy.
“Well, you only have to walk around the station and speak with them as myself and the Minister have been doing, to understand that the grief is raw and palpable,” he said.
“People all grieve differently. But to see hardened police officers, who have worked up here for years and been to many fatal collisions, but when it’s one of your own it’s hard and I have seen some of them crying.
“To see them grieving and in pain indicates that it’s going to take some time to work through it.
“That’s why we have our police Chaplain up here and our welfare support people, but often the best support you can have comes from your local peers who support each other.”
Commissioner Patton described how he was impacted by news of the fatal collision.
“Initially, it is one of disbelief and shock, but you very quickly slide into police mode to make sure that everything that should be in place, is in place,” he said.
“Much like the Eastern Freeway collision, where it was one of those routine operations which we do thousands and thousands of times – out on patrol with no other risk factor other than just going about their job and as a result we have one member critically injured and one who is diseased.”
Minister Neville said that she too was greatly shocked when Commissioner Patton conveyed the news of the fatality to her.
“I was saying to the members earlier, that the two worst experiences or phone calls that I have had as Police Minister, have been the Eastern Freeway incident and this one,” she said.
“You know just how much it hurts and that’s the case for any family who loses anyone on the road, but when it is someone in the police and the broader emergency services family, we know how they are hurting and we are here to support them,” she said.
Commissioner Patton was asked about the condition of officer Kinnane who is undergoing treatment in Melbourne.
“His condition is stable and he has already reached out to other Highway Patrol members from his hospital bed, who said that was a good sign,” Commissioner Patton said.
“He has undergone some operations, particularly on his leg, which is understood to be badly injured and he will have more to come.
“He suffered leg and internal injuries and he was initially taken to the hospital in Mildura and then a short time later, flown to Melbourne for treatment.”
Members of VicPol’s Major Collision Investigation Unit, travelled to the scene of the accident and they will download all of the onboard data from the unmarked, BMW Highway Patrol car, which be analysed to assist with the investigation into the collision.
“We sent up four members from the reconstruction unit to piece together what occurred,” Commissioner Patton said.
“They undertake measurements and reconstruct the scene and ascertain the speeds of the vehicles.
“Forensically they are quite brilliant in what they do and the advantages of modern vehicles now enabling them to download analytics, provides a valuable resource of information.
“Because a civilian died in the collision, the incident is classified as a contact with police quite clearly, and so the investigation will be over sighted by the Professional Standards Command as well, as a matter of routine.”
The BMW’s have a chip that in the event of a collision activates an alert and BMW then contact emergency services in the vicinity of the incident and it is believed that did occur on Friday night.
Minister Neville said that the state’s road toll was higher this year and over the Easter weekend people needed to drive safely.
“Our road toll is higher than it was last year and we know that there are a lot of deaths on our rural roads and people need to take care and what we don’t want to see is tragedies like this,” she said.
“This is in people’s hands. Don’t speed, don’t drink and drive and don’t use drugs and importantly, be patient and take you time and save lives.”
− JOHN DOOLEY