18 January 2024

Boy, 14, accused of killing Joshua Stewart in fatal Barton Highway crash after alleged 'joyride'

| Albert McKnight
Barton Highway crash scene

One person needed to be extracted from the allegedly stolen Toyota Avalon after the fatal crash on 17 January 2024. Photo: ACT Policing.

The first person to die from a crash on the ACT’s roads this year was 19-year-old Joshua Stewart, a court heard when the 14-year-old boy accused of killing him appeared there to face his charges.

The court also heard that another 14-year-old occupant of the car may die due to the crash as well.

The alleged driver, who legally cannot be named due to his age, was formally handed charges of culpable driving causing death and dishonestly driving a motor vehicle in the ACT Children’s Court on Thursday afternoon (18 January).

A woman was at her home in Chisholm around 9:15 pm on Wednesday (17 January) when she heard a loud bang from her driveway, then went outside to see her Toyota Avalon speeding down the road while hitting nearby letter boxes, police alleged in court documents. She called police to report her car had been stolen.

At almost midnight, another woman had been driving her Toyota Hilux north on the Barton Highway when she reached the intersection with Clarrie Hermes Drive in Spence.

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It is alleged the stolen Avalon drove through a red light and into the intersection, hitting the Hilux.

The Avalon received “catastrophic damage”, police said, and both the front and rear passengers on the left-hand side were critically injured.

A motorist who arrived at the scene shortly afterwards allegedly heard one of the Avalon’s occupants say something like, “I’m going to jail. I’ve just killed my mate”.

Police said the passengers were Mr Stewart and two other 14-year-old boys. Paramedics arrived to find one of these 14-year-olds had life-threatening head and chest injuries, while Mr Stewart was trapped and was also critically injured.

Mechanical tools were required to extricate him from the vehicle. Both he and the critically injured boy were taken to Canberra Hospital for urgent treatment and surgery.

Mr Stewart died from his injuries a couple of hours later, while the boy remained in a critical and unstable condition.

The alleged 14-year-old driver and the other 14-year-old passenger were standing outside the car when police arrived. The former was taken to hospital for medical treatment, then arrested.

He applied for bail on Thursday, which was opposed by the prosecution.

Barton Highway crash scene

A 14-year-old boy was charged over the fatal crash on the Barton Highway. Photo: ACT Policing.

Prosecutor Marcus Dyason alleged that in the 24 hours before the crash, there was evidence to suggest the boy hadn’t been at home with his mother, had been drinking alcohol, had been involved in the theft of a car, then there was a “joyride” that resulted in a death.

He alleged it had been a serious incident that resulted in at least one death and potentially two.

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The boy’s lawyer, Sam Lynch from the Aboriginal Legal Service, said the matter was undoubtedly tragic and he knew there were lots of emotions running high, but he also said emotion should not enter the decision-making process for bail.

He said the boy had no criminal history and there was no pattern of non-compliance with court orders.

“If anything, as a result of the incident, it’s likely he’s minded to not do a lot of things,” Mr Lynch said.

Magistrate Glenn Theakston said “placing a young person into custody should be a last resort”, but he thought the material before the court perhaps showed “a boy who lives the way he wants to”.

He wanted to be convinced that structures could be put in place to ensure he could not “wander out and do what he wishes”. He adjourned the bail application to Friday (19 January) to hear more about what could be done.

The boy was remanded in custody for the time being.

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