A Victorian father who killed his two-year-old son in a quad bike crash because he was doing doughnuts with the toddler on his lap has wept after learning that he is likely to avoid jail.
WARNING: This story contains details that may distress some readers.
- Christopher Browne is likely to be transported to a community-based order over the fatal crash
- The court heard Browne was “overwhelmed” by post-traumatic stress
- Prosecutors initially pushed for jail time, but accepted a community-based order was appropriate
Christopher Browne was behind the wheel when he lost control of the buggy during the dangerous manoeuvre and it overturned, flinging his son Lincoln from the vehicle at their home in Barnawartha North, near the New South Wales border, on Christmas Day in 2020.
Lincoln was sitting on his father’s knee and was only being held in place. No-one was wearing a helmet.
Browne escaped the crash with minor injuries, as did his sister, who was in the passenger seat.
He today appeared in the County Court of Victoria and pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing death and conduct endangering persons.
Judge Michael Cahill said he accepted that Browne was “profoundly remorseful”.
“I have formed the view in all the circumstances in this case that a community correction order is the appropriate sentence for Mr Browne,” the judge said.
“Living with the loss of his child is punishment more than any court could impose.”
Browne, who appeared by videolink from Wodonga, wiped away tears as the judge spoke.
Father was trying to ‘scare’ sister in lead-up to crash, court hears
On December 25, 2020, Browne opened presents and ate brunch with family members at his home in Barnawartha North.
Just before lunchtime, Browne took his Polaris buggy out to give his guests rides.
He got into the driver’s seat and sat on top of the seatbelt, which was already clipped in, while his sister got into the passenger side and put on her restraints.
Court documents reveal that Browne placed Lincoln, who wanted to go for a ride, on his left knee and held him in place.
He then drove out into a paddock and performed several doughnuts before driving back up the driveway, where he reached speeds of up to 70 kilometers per hour.
He turned the buggy around and drove back into the paddock to perform another donut when he lost control of the vehicle and it flipped, flinging the toddler.
The court heard the buggy was estimated to be traveling at 45kph at the time.
The event was witnessed by Michael Hart, the partner of Browne’s sister.
“Lincoln fell out … and went straight under. The buggy landed straight on top of him,” he later told investigators.
The two-year-old died at the scene.
Browne later told investigators that he was trying to “scare” his sister.
“I tried to show my sister my new car… My brother-in-law, her partner, said not to go too hard to scare her ’cause he wanted to get one, which her being my sister made me feel like I wanted to , he said.
He told police that he had one mid-strength beer during lunch and a pre-mixed drink before and during brunch, but tests revealed he had no alcohol in his system after the crash.
“Mr Brown has been overwhelmed by his post-traumatic stress,” Judge Cahill said.
“At times, the only thing that keeps him going is his sense of responsibility to look after his wife and the younger child.”
None of Browne’s family members made victim impact statements to the court and he was supported by his wife during the hearing.
Prosecutor Erin Ramsay initially pushed for jail time but ultimately accepted that a community-based order was an appropriate sentence.
“There should be a very significant amount of unpaid community work attached to such an order given that the order’s really being made in lieu of what would otherwise be imprisoned,” she said.
Browne’s bail was extended ahead of his sentence next week.
He will be assessed for a community-based order.