On 29 January 1938, my Grandfather, John William 'Bill' Leach was riding pillion with his mate Michael Robert Andrews. A car driven by Frederick William Gray, overtook the motorbike three times on a journey from Mascot Bridge. The third time, the driver swerved towards the bike and on the corner of Botany Road and Coward Street, Mascot, the motorbike struck a post and the driver was killed. Gray was charged with murder.
|Bill Leach with wife, Florence on his own motorbike in the early 1930s|
Source: Nichols Family Archives
This was the 1930s and times were tough. Bill often fished around Botany Bay and then went around to some of the local hotels to sell his catch. On the day of the accident, Bill and Michael had been to Kogarah Bay. Bill gave evidence at the inquest, he said that they were returning to Sydney when he noticed a car "that after crossing the Mascot Bridge and turning the corner 100 yards farther an Essex car crossed in front of them and to avoid it the cycle swerved from the concrete road to the side of the street." Andrews and Leach said together, "That was close." Further along the road, the car slowed down and the cycle went past. As drove past, Andrews shouted to the driver, "You fool" and words were exchanged. Bill then stated that the car "seemed to swerve in upon the cycle" and he shouted, "Look out! Look out!" but the back wheel or some part of the car caught the front wheel of the cycle. He continued, "I had an impression of Andrews being hurled against a post. The next thing I remembered was sitting upon the roadway about 20 feet from the cycle. The car had gone on."
A witness to the accident, Mrs Irene O'Donnell of Botany, "said that she saw the collision. She would say that the car was deliberately aimed at the motor cycle."
Mr Sabine, a Detective said that Gray had told him he had not stopped because he did not think he was responsible for the accident. Witnesses also mentioned that despite Gray seeing the accident he had not stopped. Andrews was admitted the Royal South Sydney Hospital but died within thirty minutes of admission, from a fractured skull. The coroner found that the death of Andrews was due to a fractured skull and brain injuries that were suffered in the collision. Michael was aged 37 and a fireman living at Alexandria.
Evidence was given that Gray was an acceptable driver and his car in a satisfactory condition. Gray denied he was guilty but did admit to having consumed several drinks on the day. His version of events were supported by his two passengers, his wife and his brother-in-law.
The original charge of murder was reduced to the lesser charge of manslaughter. "There is no doubt that this is homicide," said the coroner, Mr. Oram, "and, to me, it certainly is punishable homicide. But there is no evidence of express malice, such as is necessary to sustain a charge of murder." Mr Oram said "the evidence did not indicate criminal maliciousness." Bail of £200 was set with two sureties of £200 was allowed. He was later sentenced to two years gaol for the manslaughter.
My grandfather was 27 years old and a building labourer. As a result of the accident he severely injured his wrist, arms and knees. The injuries plagued him for the remainder of his life. Due to his injuries he was in out of hospital and was unable to work for about six months. My Grandmother, Flo had to return to work as a box-maker to make ends meet. Joyce, my Mother, aged four and her two year old sister, Fay had to attend a special nursery school while she was at work. Andrews also left a widow and family.
|Sydney Morning Herald 22 February 1938, p. 12|
MOTORIST FOR TRIAL. (1938, February 22). The Sydney Morning Herald, p. 12. Retrieved March 28, 2016
Drove Cyclist Off Road To His Death (1938, March 27). Truth, p. 25. Retrieved March 28, 2016
ROAD ACCIDENTS. (1938, January 31). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954), , p. 14. Retrieved March 29, 2016