Accused Bourke Street driver James Gargasoulas managed to evade arrest despite briefly being boxed in by police at gunpoint in the hours before he ploughed through pedestrians, a court has heard.
Mr Gargasoulas, 28, was in a drug-induced psychosis when it is alleged he deliberately drove down pedestrians along the footpath during the busy lunchtime period on January 20 last year.
He is on trial in the Victorian Supreme Court after pleading not guilty to six counts of murder and 27 counts of reckless conduct endangering life over the incident.
The court heard police had been pursuing him for 12 hours prior to the tragedy, after he stabbed his brother with a kitchen knife at their mother’s home in Windsor, in Melbourne’s inner south-east.
Police had been following him in unmarked police cars through several Melbourne suburbs for an hour in the morning and began a police pursuit, which was called off after one minute due to safety concerns.
The court heard police were ordered not to pursue Mr Gargasoulas’s car over concerns he would drive even faster and a member of the public would be hurt.
Police had wanted to wait for Mr Gargasoulas to stop his car in order to arrest him safely.
Police began following Mr Gargasoulas again from 12pm as he made his way into the city, driving in circles outside Flinders Street Station and then up busy Bourke Street.
Two hours before the tragedy, police had managed to box his car in near the Westgate Bridge and surrounded the red sedan with their guns drawn, the court heard.
Senior Constable David Cavanagh told the court Mr Gargasoulas sped off over the centre median strip before they could apprehend him.
“I didn’t believe I could have done any more to stop that car at that point,” he told the court.
Later, he was in the police car driving directly behind Mr Gargasoulas as he turned from Swanston Street into Bourke Street and allegedly began accelerating into pedestrians.
Senior Constable Cavanagh said they planned to ram his car, but could not get close enough to do it safely.
In another unmarked police car driving behind him was Detective Senior Constable Adam Burnett.
He told the court that he had tried to pull up beside Mr Gargasoulas on Swanston Street, but Mr Gargasoulas then swerved towards him.
Senior Constable Burnett said Mr Gargasoulas began accelerating towards crowds of people in Bourke Street mall and he could see pedestrians being flung into the air.
“I could just hear screaming straight away, it was madness,” he said.
“I remember hearing a voice on the police radio saying, ‘the car is hitting pedestrians. It must be stopped at all costs’.”
The police officer said once he arrested Mr Gargasoulas near the intersection of William and Bourke Streets, he began trying to help injured pedestrians.
Senior Constable Burnett said he found a man standing next to a little girl who was having trouble breathing.
He told the court that as another police officer began CPR he asked the man how old his child was, but the man responded: “It’s not my child. I found her in the street”.
Bystanders remember desperation on Bourke Street
Bystanders also gave evidence about the frantic scenes on Bourke Street as the car drove through crowds of people.
Solicitor Joshua Baldacchino told the court he was walking back to his office after having lunch when he saw the car plough through pedestrians at the intersection of Bourke and Elizabeth Streets.
He said people were running and screaming to get out of the way.
“The car hit them just like it would an insect – thud, thud, thud, thud,” Mr Baldacchino said.
Banker Aaron Jensen was further up Bourke Street on his way back to work when he heard sirens and then saw the car driving up the footpath.
He told the court he can still remember the desperation in the eyes of a man who had tried to jump out of the way but had been clipped by the car and ricocheted back onto the bonnet.
Mr Jensen said he also remembers the sound of bodies being hit “like doof, doof as each body was struck by the car”.
The men also remembered seeing Mr Gargasoulas behind the wheel, appearing composed with his hands on the steering wheel.
The trial before Justice Mark Weinberg and a jury of 13 people continues.