Living with the loss of one’s child ‘is a punishment more than any court can impose,’ the judge said
A Melbourne judge has ruled that Christopher Browne, a father who accidentally killed his son while performing doughnuts on a quadbike, will not go to prison. Browne was riding the bike on Christmas Day in 2020 along with his two-year-old son Lincoln at his Barnawartha North property, which is close to the NSW border.
Victorian County Court Judge Michael Cahill said in his judgment that living with the loss of one’s child “is a punishment more than any court can impose.” Instead, he declared that he would assess 32-year-old Christopher Browne for a community corrections order.
After the buggy rolled during a small family brunch and crushed Browne’s two-year-old son Lincoln to death, he entered a guilty plea to the charge of dangerous driving resulting in death. The father acknowledged drinking up to three alcoholic beverages during the Christmas brunch, but tests revealed he had none in his system when the crash occurred.
According to court documents, Browne was operating the buggy while holding his son in his lap and using his right arm to drive. He had intended to take everyone for a ride.
According to the documents, as Browne performed his final doughnut after performing several of them in a paddock close to the family home, the buggy’s wheels sunk into the grass, causing it to roll.
Michael Hart, Browne’s brother-in-law, stated that Lincoln was “right on top” of the buggy when it hit the ground. Lincoln was thrown from the carriage and then crushed by the ATV’s roll bars, a mechanism that is supposed to stop the vehicle from crushing its passengers. Browne attempted one last doughnut in the ATV, when his sudden turn caused the vehicle to roll.
Stacey Browne, Lincoln’s mother, and another family member attempted CPR on their son at the scene. They were both seated next to their husbands during the hearing.
A psychologist and GP both presented reports indicating how deeply the incident has affected the 32-year-old. Cahill said that both reports found Browne suffered from “severe” symptoms of PTSD as a consequence of the accident. Browne’s lawyer Tom Danos told the court, “At times, the only thing that keeps him going is the responsibility of his wife and (remaining) child.”
If Browne was unable to continue leading the family business, the couple would face “significant consequences” and the employees would “suffer as well,” Danos claimed.
Judge Michael Cahill revealed that he would spare Browne from going to jail.
“I have formed the view in all the circumstances in this case that a community correction order is the appropriate sentence for Mr Browne,” the judge said. “Living with the loss of his child is punishment more than any court could impose.”
Judge Cahill recognized that Browne was extremely remorseful for the incident and jail time would only add to his fragile mental state. He will now be assessed for a community corrections order, which prosecutors called ‘highly unusual’ for a case like this.
“There should be a very significant amount of unpaid community work attached to such an order given that the order’s really being made in lieu of what would otherwise be imprisonment,” Prosecutor Erin Ramsay said.
Browne will appear in County Court next Thursday to receive his formal sentence.