A young driver fleeing from the law narrowly avoided hitting a police officer and two cyclists during a pursuit in central Melbourne that rekindled memories of the Bourke Street tragedy, a court has heard.
Bryce O’Donnell panicked when police tried to pull his car over on January 28 because he was on bail at the time and banned from driving, his lawyer told Melbourne Magistrates’ Court. He drove at speed and erratically from Swanston Street into the Bourke Street mall.
Bryce O’Donnell has pleaded guilty to reckless conduct and other charges.Credit:Victoria Police
People in the mall ran to safety and documents released by the court said O’Donnell hit a road barrier and bollard in his green Mitsubishi Lancer. His driving – partly on tram tracks – also forced a police officer to jump out of the way.
Despite the damage to his car, O’Donnell turned out of Bourke Street and continued driving erratically through the CBD, nearly hitting two cyclists. He then drove to Albert Park, where he abandoned the car near his mother’s home and evaded police for a week until he was arrested in Ballarat on February 4.
As O’Donnell, 20, faced court on Thursday to plead guilty to driving offences, defence lawyer Eleanor Millar said her client made the “poor decision” to get behind the wheel and breach a bail condition banning him from driving. He panicked when police tried to intercept him in a no-vehicle zone in Swanston Street.
O’Donnell’s never intended to hurt anyone, Ms Millar said, but she conceded his driving put people in danger.
Pedestrians flee as a car is driven along Bourke Street Mall on January 28.
“The outcome of the incident could have had much more dire consequences,” the lawyer said.
“There is no doubt this incident conjured up memories of [four] years earlier when James Gargasoulas drove through the Bourke Street mall with much more catastrophic results.”
Six people died in the January 20, 2017 rampage and Gargasoulas is serving a 46-year non-parole jail term.
O’Donnell was in the car with a friend, Ms Millar said, but got into the driver’s seat when his mate became nervous in city traffic. The friend got out in the mall and ran into a clothing store, the court heard. He was not charged.
O’Donnell pleaded guilty to reckless conduct endangering serious injury, dangerous driving while being pursued by police, offending while on bail and other charges.
He also admitted stealing a car from the Crown casino car park on March 1 last year and stealing power tools, lawn bowls and a mobile phone from other cars.
He spent time in custody after the thefts until he was granted bail, but has been on remand since his arrest over the pursuit. The two stints in custody have totalled more than nine months.
Prosecutors want O’Donnell to serve more prison time given the seriousness of his crimes and to deter him and others from similar offending. He has prior convictions for driving offences.
But Ms Millar said no more jail was warranted given the young man’s guilty plea, remorse and the need for rehabilitation.
She said O’Donnell had used cannabis and ice since his teens following his parents’ separation, but had an offer to live with his father in Ballarat and work as a roof tiler on his release.
Magistrate Stella Stuthridge had O’Donnell assessed for a community correction order and will sentence him on Friday.
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