Five years after he was knocked into a coma by a single punch, Tim Gaylard’s family fear he finally succumbed to the life-changing event.
The 27-year-old keen fisherman, baker and “happy, cheeky bugger” drowned in the Murray at Moama on the weekend, apparently after a suspected seizure caused by ongoing issues from the near-fatal assault.
Police began a land and water search after Mr Gaylard was last seen swimming under the Echuca-Moama Bridge at 6.30pm on Saturday.
His body was found downstream 16 hours later.
Mr Gaylard’s father, Daryl, said his only son was never the same person after he was punched outside a party in their home town, Colac, in 2009, leaving him in a coma for 17 days.
Ongoing seizures meant he was severely restricted in what he could do and needed constant supervision and support from his family.
The trip to the Murray to visit family friends for three days was the first time he had been away on holidays on his own and the first time he had indulged in his favourite past-time of fishing since the brutal attack.
Mr Gaylard uploaded two photos to Facebook of himself fishing just hours before he died.
“The assault changed his life totally,” his father said.
“He couldn’t go back to his job, he lost his licence because of the seizures, most of his friends left him because they were a bit frightened, he was restricted in almost everything he could do.”
Recently, however, he had just been coming back “to having some sort of happy place”.
After losing his licence and his job as a bricklayer, he began working as a baker at Colac and still tinkered with his much-loved car despite not being able to drive it.
“He was battling on,” his father said.
“He was dealt some pretty severe blows in his young life and he just got up and kept going and made the best he could out of it.”
Mr Gaylard was fishing near Moama Beach and swimming in waist-deep water with some young family friends when he disappeared under the surface without anyone noticing.
“When my mate walked past and the kids were walking out of the water, he asked ‘where’s Tim?’ and they turned around and noticed he was gone,” his father said.
He believes his son had a seizure and silently slipped under the river surface.
Friends paid tribute on Facebook, remembering Mr Gaylard as a “happy, cheeky bugger” and “one hell of a good bloke”.
Mr Gaylard had survived leukaemia earlier in life and had become the face of an anti- alcohol violence campaign in Geelong after the 2009 assault.
His father said he had kept a close eye on recent legislative changes in NSW and was devastated when Daniel Christie, 18, died in December.
Mr Gaylard implored governments around Australia to implement tough sentences.
“That’s the trouble with these one-punch things, it alters everybody’s life,” he said.