27 March 2024

Three motorcyclists hit, one killed, when driver crossed onto wrong side of road in Snowy Mountains

| Albert McKnight
Courthouse building exterior

Louise M Thornton, 65, faced the Albury District Court for her sentencing hearing on Tuesday. Photo: Vanessa Hayden.

In a tragic incident from the Snowy Mountains, a woman crashed into three social motorbike riders, killing one, when she drove onto the wrong side of the road for several seconds.

Louise M Thornton left her father’s property in Bega on the morning of 18 December, 2021, to drive to Corryong in Victoria and took the Alpine Way, agreed facts for the case say.

Meanwhile, six members of a social motorcycle group were riding a long loop through the Kosciuszko Mountain region and were travelling in the opposite direction along the same road, between Khancoban and Geehi, around 10:20 am.

As Thornton drove her Ford Escape on the wrong side of the road around a corner, motorcyclist Richard Jones had no time to react and crashed into the side of her car, rolled over the top of it, then landed on the road.

Another rider, Terry Robinson, hit the car and hurt his foot. Tragically, Roy Wilson then also hit the side of her car and suffered fatal injuries.

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The Alpine Way is a steep, narrow and winding road between Khancoban and Thredbo and is touted as a scenic drive.

According to an expert, Thornton was on the wrong side of the road for between 3.5 and 4 seconds before the impact.

When she spoke to police, she said she drove the road reasonably frequently. She also believed she was travelling on the left-hand side and did not cross over to the wrong side.

But Judge Justin Smith SC said the “overwhelming and uncontested evidence” was that she was driving towards a right-hand bend with little to no visibility of oncoming traffic on the wrong side of the road.

“There is no suggestion in the evidence of speed, alcohol, drugs, fatigue or the use of a mobile phone or anything else that may have affected the accused’s ability to properly drive her car,” he said.

“She has had a licence for 25 years, has no prior criminal history and no traffic record.”

Thornton pleaded guilty to charges of dangerous driving occasioning death and dangerous driving occasioning grievous bodily harm, while she was also found guilty of furious or other driving causing bodily harm in a judge-alone trial earlier this month.

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Judge Smith, who found her guilty of the latter charge, said the facts of the case meant she had been in charge of a vehicle and driving in a manner that was dangerous to other road users.

“The fact that she was travelling at no more than 62.3 kph does nothing to change that conclusion. At that speed, she was covering a distance of a little over 16 metres per second,” he said in his published decision.

“When the speed of any oncoming traffic is taken into account, her position on the road left little, if any, room for anyone on the road to avoid a collision.”

Thornton, a now-65-year-old from the Wodonga region in Victoria, faced the Albury District Court for a sentencing hearing on Tuesday (26 March).

Judge Smith will hand down his judgement on Thursday (28 March).

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