The Lismore Court House.
The Lismore Court House. Cathy Adams

Two killed after joy ride ended in tragedy

A SPONTANEOUS decision by five young people to go joy riding in a high performance hobby car with no seats or seatbelts ended in tragedy.

Adam Morrison, 22, and a 17-year-old who cannot be identified for legal reasons, died in the crash late last year on the Mount Lindsay Road at Woodenbong.

The driver, Ben Vincent Knight, 22, is likely to be jailed over the tragedy and will be sentenced next week.

On the Tuesday evening of September 27, Knight was at home with his friend, Adam Morrison, and three teenagers, aged between 16 and 17.

Knight had been warned by a local police officer and several others not to drive his unregistered Nissan 300ZX because it was unroadworthy.

The red coupe had no seats or front seatbelts because Knight had removed them for reconditioning.

He was in the process of restoring the car in time for the lifting of his provisional licence.

But on this night, he offered everyone a ride, and they agreed.

No one was wearing a seatbelt.

They all had to sit on the floor, even Knight.

It wasn't a long drive. Knight drove a bit more than 4km west of his home on Mount Lindesay Rd before doing a u-turn and coming back.

But as he drove past the cattle yard at Woodenbong he slowed to second gear, before giving it a "bootful" and shunting into fifth.

The car was moving at 100kmh when it rounded the last corner near his home.

There was loud music playing on the stereo, and the headlights were on high beam.

At that moment, one of the passengers recalled seeing a possum on the road ahead.

Knight was heard swearing and slammed on the brakes.

Later, he told police he did not remember the possum but would have tried to avoid it because he had just refurbished the grill on the 300ZX.

Swerving to the left and then over-correcting to the right, the car rotated on its axis, travelling more than 50m before striking an earth embankment and becoming airborne.

All five occupants were ejected from the coupe before it came to rest another 100m away.

The first passenger to regain consciousness woke up in a paddock, and was miraculously uninjured except for a few cuts and bruises.

He could hear loud music still blaring from the car.

He returned to the car to switch the music off and quickly found Ben Knight in a paddock and one other passenger, but could not see the others.

One of the first witnesses on the scene was a man who lived nearby at the Woodenbong Showgrounds.

At about 9pm he heard a "screech and a thud" and drove his car toward the noise.

Debris covered the road and the smashed car was leaking fuel.

An Army Reserve person conducting a training exercise at the Showgrounds also called triple-0 and sent their own medical personnel to provide support.

They rendered first aid to the two gravely injured young men as well as Knight, who was also severely injured in the crash.

Officers from the Woodenbong Police Station soon arrived at the scene.

One of them, Senior Constable Rampling, asked the uninjured passenger "who was driving?" and he replied "Ben".

There was a possum carcass in the middle of the road and tyre marks nearby.

Knight was transported by road to Lismore Base Hospital with before being airlifted to the Gold Coast for further treatment.

He sustained head and spinal injuries but would ultimately recover.

Adam Morrison and the 17-year-old were not as lucky.

They were both airlifted to trauma hospitals on the Gold Coast and in Brisbane but died as a result of their injuries in subsequent days.

In an interview with police two months after the crash, Knight admitted the 300ZX had too much power for a provisional driver and acknowledged it was unroadworthy and unregistered.

Knight's ability to control the car while seated on the floor was severely compromised.

It should have stayed parked in his yard.

Last week Knight formally pleaded guilty to two counts of dangerous driving occasioning death and one count of causing bodily harm by misconduct while in charge of a motor vehicle.

The sentencing has been set down for mention in the Lismore District Court on September 11.

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