The families of five teenagers who died in a horrific car crash southwest of Sydney last year have confronted the driver responsible for the deadly tragedy and told the court of their immense pain.
Best friends Lily Van De Putte, Gabby McLennan, Summer Williams, all 14, Tyrese Bechard, 15, and 16-year-old Antonio Desisto all died in the accident on East Parade in Buxton on September 6, 2022.
20-year-old Tyrell Edwards was behind the wheel of the speeding Nissan Navara when it crashed into two trees and broke into pieces.
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The P-plater, the sole survivor of the crash, pleaded guilty to five counts of dangerous driving causing death.
He faced an emotional sentencing hearing in the NSW District Court in Campbelltown on Tuesday, with impact statements made by the victims’ families.
All family members who gave evidence told Judge Christopher O’Brien of their grief and trauma, with some criticizing Edwards – who was traveling at up to 90mph before the accident – for his “negligent and avoidable stupidity”.
Melanie Van De Putte, who lost her only daughter Lily in the accident, told the court she had difficulty getting pregnant but when she did her love “exploded”.
“All I ever wanted to do was make sure Lily was loved and kept safe,” Ms Van De Putte told the court.
“We didn’t know back then that eternity would be such a short period of time.
“Am I even a mother if my child is no longer alive?”
Ms Van De Putte said the pain of losing her daughter was “insurmountable” and she was angry with Edwards.
“I wonder why this happened when it could have been very easily avoided,” she said.
“The heartache of losing her will mean a life sentence for me.”
Lily’s sister Brittney Van De Putte addressed Edwards directly in her statement to the court.
“My sister’s life was in your hands. She trusted you. We trusted you,” she said.
Lily’s father John Van De Putte said the accident was an “incident, not an accident” as it was preventable.
“There are no excuses,” he told Edwards.
“You passed your driving test, so you knew the rules.”
The family of Lily’s best friend Gabby McLennan also spoke directly to Edwards and remembered her as a “beautiful soul.”
“She loved her friends and family so much and you took that away from her,” Gabby’s mother, Samantha McLennan, told the court.
“I just want to ask you: What were you thinking when you drove like that with those kids in the car?
“You stole five lives and you were the adult and you should have known better.
“You’ve never shown any remorse… not even a ‘sorry.’
“I have never felt so much hate towards one person.
“You have destroyed our lives with your actions.
“I hope that every night, before you close your eyes, you remember this night and these five beautiful lives.
“You took away their families and the future they had.”
Ms McLennan said her family’s lives had changed forever and they now spent their weekends at Gabby’s grave looking at her photos.
“We will never see her smile again. I will never be able to do her hair again, we will never sit at the dinner table as a family again.”
“The only time I see my girl is in my dreams.”
Antonio Desisto’s mother Belinda told the court the loss of her son had left an “incredible void” in her life and had an impact on her mental and physical wellbeing.
“It’s like there’s a constant cloud of despair hanging over my life,” she said.
“He was my protector and my champion. He was my best friend.
“I will never have the opportunity to see him grow up.
“I am a devastated mother. I brought him into this world and he was taken away from me.
“I hope the justice system can provide some closure.”
Antonio’s father, Exaven Desisto, told the court that about half an hour before the accident, he spoke on the phone to his son, who told him that he would be dropped off at home soon after.
Mr Desisto told his son to tell the driver to be safe. In response, Antonio said: “I will do that, dad, I love my life,” Mr Desisto told the court.
Shortly afterwards, Mr Desisto received another call informing him that there had been an accident.
“Antonio had his whole life ahead of him,” his father said.
“This is a life sentence for all five families knowing our children will never come home.”
Mr. Desisto said he still sent messages to his son every day, hoping for a response, but knew it would never come.
“I just hope he sees me writing to him and knows how much I love him,” he told the court.
Antonio, who would have turned 18 on Wednesday, loved BMX and boxing and was a humble and kind soul, his father said.
“I feel like a failure – I told my son I would always protect him,” Mr Desisto said.
“I keep looking for him in my dream and can never find him.
“I am lost without my boy, he was the love of my life, my best friend.”
Antonio’s sister Angelina said it was “torture” to no longer have her brother with her, but said she had forgiven Edwards.
“Every time I think about my brother, it’s hard knowing I can’t hug him anymore,” she said.
“Every day is a struggle for all of us.
“To the man who took my brother’s life – I forgive you because God has forgiven us of our sins.
“I just hope that one day you can learn to forgive yourself.”
Summer Williams’ family, including her siblings, mother and aunt, all made statements.
“My family and I will never see her grow up,” Summer’s brother Lincoln told the court, asking for the maximum sentence for Edwards.
“Fourteen years of memories are all we have.
“You took her from all of us and for that you will never be forgotten or forgiven.”
Summer’s mother, Lisa Williams, said her daughter was cherished by everyone who knew her and her death has shattered her world beyond repair.
“You, Tyrell, have no idea what you have destroyed, but one day you will have children of your own and I hope you see them the way I looked at Summer,” she told the court.
“And I hope you remember me and what you took and destroyed.”
Tyrese Bechard’s family did not read statements to the court, but they were presented as part of the Crown’s proceedings.
Edwards has been in custody for more than four months since pleading guilty in August.
In a psychologist’s report presented to the court by his lawyer Greg James KC, the 20-year-old admitted responsibility for the crash and expressed his guilt and shame at being the sole survivor.
“My apology will not change anything … and it will not bring comfort to anyone,” he said in the report.
James stated that Edwards had been suicidal since the crash.
And James said Edwards’ immaturity, vulnerability and lower intelligence would make his time in prison more stressful.
In an affidavit filed as part of the defense’s sentencing hearing, Edwards’ mother, Renee, said she had wanted to contact the victims’ families on numerous occasions.
“This was a nightmare we will never wake up from,” she wrote.
“Please know that you have all been in my thoughts and prayers.
“I understand the hatred you carry in your heart.
“I fought to keep the shell of my son alive to deal with the consequences.
“Tyrell will forever suffer and endure the pain he caused to so many.”
James submitted that the 20-year-old was a “limited means” of general deterrence and asked Judge O’Brien to make a special circumstances finding.
He also urged the judge to avoid a “devastating sentence.”
Edwards had no previous convictions but had his license revoked twice for speeding as a P-plate offender.
In her submissions, Crown prosecutor Monika Knowles said Edwards’ level of intelligence, immaturity and vulnerability did not diminish the need for general deterrence, which was an important factor in determining the sentence.
These factors did not lessen his moral culpability, she added.
“He chose to drive the way he did,” she told the court.
Edwards will be sentenced next week.
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