10 September 2022

Driver accused of killing 16-year-old girlfriend in crash owed it to her to keep her safe, trial told

| Albert McKnight
Alexis Saaghy

Alexis Saaghy died in hospital three days after the accident on 31 October 2020. Photo: Supplied.

A driver accused of drifting and speeding before crashing into a tree and killing his 16-year-old girlfriend owed it to her to keep her safe, a prosecutor said at the end of his trial.

“Speeding is one thing, but speeding in the rain, in the dark, is another,” Crown Prosecutor Soraya Saikal-Skea said.

“He failed, to a gross degree, to obverse the most basic standard of care to not speed in the rain.”

Alexis Saaghy suffered severe injuries in the early morning crash on 31 October 2020 and died in hospital three days later.

An ACT Supreme Court jury trial began against her boyfriend, Ameen Hamdan, earlier this week, in which he pleaded not guilty to charges alleging he killed her and caused grievous bodily harm to his friend in the backseat.

Bar a few empty seats, the courtroom’s gallery was near-packed to hear the lawyers’ closing arguments on Friday (9 September). It was filled with family and supporters of both Alexis and Mr Hamdan.

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Then 18, Mr Hamdan was still on his red Ps when he was driving his ute in Wanniassa that rainy morning.

Alexis had her seatbelt on in the front passenger seat while two of his teenage friends sat in the back.

A brief video she took shortly before the crash was played to the 12 jurors, in which the group could be seen driving along the dark, rainy road, screaming, while the song ‘Tokyo Drift’ played and Mr Hamdan said, “Ameen Hamdan, drift king”.

Ms Saikal-Skea alleged this video showed Mr Hamdan had been driving recklessly and drifting because of what he says, while also demonstrating he had been “showing off” and “thought he was invincible”.

Man leaving court

Ameen Hamdan leaves court on Friday. Photo: Albert McKnight.

She said this was ultimately a common-sense case. She alleged Mr Hamdan was an inexperienced driver in a large ute loaded up with his friends, and was drifting and speeding before he overcorrected. He was allegedly going too fast to control his car, and it slid into a tree.

Sobs could be heard in the courtroom gallery when body-worn camera footage of the crash scene taken on the night of the incident was played to jurors, showing the severely smashed ute.

Ms Saikal-Skea said police reported Mr Hamdan had appeared concussed and confused at the scene and told them he didn’t think there was a female passenger in his ute.

Mr Hamdan had given brief testimony on Thursday in which he said he had no memory of the events that day and had been told he suffered a mild brain damage.

The prosecutor said his friends told the court he had been driving a bit recklessly and swerving during the lead-up to the crash and they had asked him to stop and slow down.

She also said a resident who lived near the crash site thought the ute had sounded like it was “really rushing through the water”.

However, barrister John Purnell SC, appearing for Mr Hamdan, said the friends thought his client was driving normally, not erratically and not speeding.

He also described the resident as “an improver”, as in the resident’s initial evidence he said he heard a “bang” before heading to the crash site.

The Crown’s collision expert used a critical speed analysis methodology to determine the ute’s speed and estimated it had allegedly been travelling between 81-100 km/h at the start of the collision sequence in a 50 km/h zone.

Ms Saikal-Skea said the defence’s expert, Nigel McDonald, made a speed estimate that wasn’t based on estimates taken of the ute or marks at the scene but came completely from a visual comparison.

She said his opinion was “just too unreliable”, although Mr Purnell argued Mr McDonald was “the real expert in this case”.

Mr Purnell said one of the friends claimed Mr Hamdan yelled out “f-k”, then there was a swerve that led to the loss of control before the crash.

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This friend said he thought this could have been because Mr Hamdan saw a kangaroo, but he didn’t see any kangaroo himself.

Mr Purnell suggested that unless the jurors could exclude the reasonable possibility of there being a kangaroo they could not convict him.

He also said the video taken by Alexis was recorded about 1.2 km from the crash site and showed his client was not drifting, speeding or driving irresponsibly at that time and had, in fact, been “crawling through the rain”.

Mr Hamdan is charged with culpable driving causing death and grievous bodily harm, as well as the alternative charges of negligent driving causing death and grievous bodily harm.

The grievous bodily harm charges related to the passenger who broke his arm in the crash.

Justice Michael Elkaim gave his legal instructions to jurors before they began their deliberations.

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