Brock Kusen had just finished an eight-hour night shift when his car allegedly drifted onto the wrong side of the road and crashed head-on into Jess McLennan’s vehicle, causing the death of the beloved nurse.
The 20-year-old has been committed to stand trial over the tragic events of June 1 last year, but told Wangaratta Magistrates’ Court on Thursday he was “not guilty” to the charge of dangerous driving causing death.
Family of Ms McLennan, who was 23 years old when she died in hospital three days after the crash, broke down in tears as Kusen entered his plea and his barrister argued the driving should not be considered dangerous
Details of the Rutherglen-Springhurst Road crash were revealed for the first time during the committal hearing.
Bronwyn Holloway narrowly avoided serious injury at 6.30am that morning when she saw Kusen’s BMW cross over into her lane.
“I could see the tyre right over the line,” she said in evidence to the court.
“He just seemed to drift.”
Ms Holloway tried to swerve out of his way, but he “sideswiped” the rear of her Ford Falcon, sending it veering off to the right, through a fence and into a paddock.
Also a nurse at Wangaratta Hospital, she quickly went to check on Kusen while calling triple zero.
“I was trying to keep him calm and get him to talk to me,” Ms Holloway said.
“He had injured his mouth so he couldn't speak clearly.”
The nurse teared up in the witness box as she described how her and another colleague, also on her way to work, discovered Miss McLennan had been hit in the car traveling behind her.
“I know she worked at the hospital by her uniform,” she said.
“She didn't look too good.”
The crash occurred on a dry, clear morning, when the sun had yet to rise.
Ms Holloway praised the work of emergency service who were quickly at the crash scene.
“There were a lot of people who did exceptional work.”
Detective Leading Senior Constable Robert Hay, a reconstructionist with the Major Collision Investigation Unit, revealed Ms McLennan had tried to avoid the crash at the last second.
“The Nissan was making an evasive manoeuvre, turning to the left,” he said.
“The impact between the two vehicles is significant.”
Tyre marks showed the collision between Kusen and Ms Holloway’s cars occurred between 1.1 metres and 1.6 metres over the centre line.
Detective Hay estimated McLennan’s car was 30 metres behind when the crash occurred at about 90km/h and there was no evidence she had time to brake.
“Sometimes these things happen quite quickly,” he said.
Investigations revealed none of the three cars were speeding.
Barrister Diana Price argued against the prosecution case that the single incident of drifting over the centre line should be considered dangerous.
“This is not a case where Mr Kusen was speeding, he was not affected by drugs or alcohol, he wasn’t on the phone,” she said.
“The circumstances of this case and the death of Jessica McLennan are a tragedy.”
Accused ‘alert’ on morning of crash
What occurred in the moments before Brock Kusen’s BMW slammed into two others driving the opposite direction remains a mystery.
The defence in court on Thursday did not lead any evidence with an explanation.
Kusen had left work at Alpine MDF In Wangaratta at 6am on June 1, following a night shift starting at 10pm.
His colleague Peter Fuller finished work at the same time and told the court the teenager appeared alert and awake as he participated in banter and chat about footy with the group.
He described Kusen’s driving as “sensible” and had “no concerns at all” as they drove the same way home, taking a shortcut along a gravel road towards the Hume Freeway.
MCIU Detective Sergeant Andrew Kilpatrick said his team had looked at CCTV footage from Alpine MDF, but it did not show anything out of the ordinary.
“It was of no value, grainy. We were looking to observe the condition of the accused, but you couldn’t see anything,” he said.
“We can’t exclude the phone may have been used, but there’s no active calls, no recent message (at the time of the crash).”
Kusen appeared in court on Thursday in blue pants, a blue shirt and a woolen jumper and remained solemn supported by his parents and other family.
The case was adjourned for a directions hearing at the Wangaratta County Court on June 8.