At the inquest investigating the Falkholt family’s deaths, witnesses who sought to save them after a horrible Boxing Day vehicle disaster were hailed for their bravery.
Home and Away actor Jessica Falkholt, her sister and her parents died after another car driven by a drug-addled driver failed to follow a bend on a highway as the family returned to Sydney from a Christmas event on the NSW south coast in 2017.
A witness described the cars as colliding with such force they were “pushed up into a triangle before landing again”.
Lars and Vivian Falkholt, husband and wife, died in the terrible crash. Passers-by rescued Jessica, 28, and her sister Annabelle, 20, from the wreckage, but they died later in hospital.
The driver of the other car also died.
NSW State Coroner Teresa O’Sullivan said the collision had shocked the community when she handed down her findings on Tuesday.
“The sorrow was accentuated by the fact that the accident happened on Boxing Day, a day many of us look forward to celebrating with our families and friends,” she said.
Given the graphic nature of the tragedy, Ms O’Sullivan gave special thanks to community members who risked their lives to help the family escape the wreckage.
“The heroic actions of many community members and off-duty medical staff is notable,” she said.
“Their acts give him with the consolation and knowing that his family was not alone following the accident,” (Vivian’s brother Paul Ponticello) said.
Craig Whitall, a long-term methadone program patient with a slew of medical concerns and a dreadful driving record dating back to 1984, was blamed for the crash, according to the inquest.
Mr Whitall’s system included a combination of prescription medications, which, according to a forensic pharmacologist, would have produced “severe impairment of his cognitive and motor skills, which would have resulted in impairment of his driving abilities.”
He was seen driving erratically and having several near-misses with other cars in his trip from Nowra to his Ulladulla home.
Mr. Whithall was sedated at the time of the incident, according to Ms. O’Sullivan, despite his “long-term inclination to ignore the traffic regulations.”
Despite recording eight demerit points for various infringements, he was recently upgraded to green P-plates due to a delay in Revenue NSW submitting details onto licensing body Transport for NSW.
Mr. Falkholt, on the other hand, was described as an “exceptionally safe” driver who, according to the coroner, could have done nothing to avoid the incident.
Despite his turbulent life and many imperfections, Mr Whitall was still part of a family “who grieve and mourn him,” according to Ms. O’Sullivan.
The coroner declined to make any recommendations.
She cautioned against drawing broad inferences about the general driving safety of opioid treatment program users based on the horrific crash.
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