A woman has been found guilty of manslaughter after she failed to call for help when 20-year-old Luke Doyle was overdosing on drugs.
Mr Doyle’s family clapped and cheered from the public gallery of the Wagga District Court as Judge Gordon Lerve ruled Tracy Lee Dowling, 41, guilty of the Cootamundra man’s unlawful killing.
The 24-hour period surrounding Mr Doyle’s death on March 13, 2012 was closely examined during Ms Dowling's four-and-a-half week trial.
The night before his death, Mr Doyle, Ms Dowling, and mutual friend Matthew Hennock illegally obtained an unknown amount of Xanax tablets in Young.
After consuming the tablets, Mr Doyle and Mr Hennock each stole a bottle of alcohol from the Woolworths Bottle Shop before the trio set off to the home of Craig Apps with the view of trading the stolen alcohol for oxcycodone.
Once at Mr Apps’s home, multiple witnesses gave evidence of Mr Doyle’s rapid deterioration.
“He was hunched over on the side of the lounge,” Mr Hennock told the court.
“I walked over and I started trying to wake him up. I started slapping him up and I started slapping him, saying his name and I just started slapping him harder and yelling louder.”
Mr Apps also gave an account of walking into the kitchen after witnessing Mr Hennock and Ms Dowling “shooting up” in the bathroom to see Mr Doyle “hit the ground”.
Recognising his worsening condition, Mr Hennock and Mr Apps decided to walk Mr Doyle outside, place him in Ms Dowling’s red Nissan ute, and drive him to the hospital.
“I just wanted to get him to the hospital, I was worried about him because I couldn’t wake him up,” Mr Hennock said.
A passerby who stopped to help them load Mr Doyle into the ute, Trent Lovegrove, told the court he had “white gunk” on his arm and “felt like an ice pack”.
With Mr Doyle worsening in the van, but still alive and making “gurgly” noises, Mr Hennock ran back inside to retrieve his bumbag and jumper before taking him to the hospital.
Both Mr Hennock and Mr Apps said that was the point where Ms Dowling came outside, got in the ute, and drove away with Mr Doyle slumped in the passenger seat, constituting the moment she assumed a duty of care over him.
Instead of taking him to the hospital, Ms Dowling drove him to her own home and did not call for help, a failure to act which ultimately led to her becoming criminally responsible for his death.
The accused omitted to do anything by way of seeking or obtaining medical or other assistance for Luke Doyle, who was helpless.Judge Gordon Lerve
“Given the evidence of Matthew Hennock, Craig Apps, and Trent Lovegrove, it would have been blatantly obvious to anyone that Luke Doyle was in need of urgent medical assistance,” Judge Lerve said.
“I am satisfied that the accused owed a duty of care to Luke Doyle by reason of the fact of her voluntarily assuming care of him at the time she drove him away.”
Upon arriving at her home, Crown prosecutors alleged Ms Dowling left Mr Doyle alone in the car and went inside to sleep.
The following morning, Ms Dowling’s mother arrived home shortly after 7:30 from her shift at an aged care facility to find Mr Doyle’s dead body at the foot of the red ute, which was covered in his vomit.
She ran inside to wake her daughter, yelling at her “What the f---’s going on? Luke’s out the front dead”.
Her mother then gave evidence of Tracy responding “He’s not, mum, he was drunk”, but a toxicology report later showed no traces of alcohol in his blood.
A post-mortem examination revealed Mr Doyle’s cause of death to be multi-drug toxicity, with traces of oxcycodone, Xanax, and morphine all found in his blood.
Ms Dowling would later claim she made three attempts to call triple-0 on her phone, but Judge Lerve rejected that as untrue after phone records revealed no such attempts.
“The accused omitted to do anything by way of seeking or obtaining medical or other assistance for Luke Doyle, who was helpless,” Judge Lerve said.
“I am satisfied, therefore, beyond reasonable doubt, that she was grossly negligent.”
However, while Judge Lerve found Ms Dowling criminally responsible for Mr Doyle’s death, he said the evidence aired in the trial gave far more people cause to engage in some “serious introspection”.
“None of this reflects well on those persons,” he said.
Upon hearing Judge Lerve’s guilty verdict, Crown prosecutor Paul Kerr lodged an application to detain Ms Dowling, who had been on bail for the duration of the trial.
“Having regard to the finding of guilty, there is now a substantial danger that Ms Dowling will fail to appear, given the consequences she faces,” Mr Kerr said.
However, Judge Lerve decided to allow her to leave on strict bail conditions, barring her from leaving her home except in medical emergencies or for legal appointments.
“No-one should think for a moment that this is an indication of what the likely outcome of the sentence will be,” he said.
Speaking outside court more than six-and-a-half years after his son’s passing, father Peter Doyle said he was “happy but sad” after hearing the verdict.
“All they had to do was call triple-0 to save my son, my son was still alive,” he said.
“I’d wish it on nobody.”
Ms Dowling will remain on bail until her return to Wagga District Court on March 27 next year for sentencing.