The crumbled remains of the car in which a Queensland husband and wife lost their lives after being hit head-on by a car driven by a 17-year-old P-plater south of Woodburn.
The crumbled remains of the car in which a Queensland husband and wife lost their lives after being hit head-on by a car driven by a 17-year-old P-plater south of Woodburn. Doug Eaton

Couple killed in highway accident

A SYDNEY man was first on the scene of a head-on collision on the Pacific Highway south of Woodburn in which a man and a woman lost their lives yesterday.

The Queensland couple died in the horrific accident after being hit by a car driven by a P-plater.

“It was so sad, there was absolutely nothing I could do,” said the visibly shaken motorist who asked not to be named.

“All I could do was hold the lady’s hand and pray for her.

“She was semi-conscious but she wasn’t in pain.”

The 61-year-old man and his 64-year-old wife from Nerang were travelling south in their blue 1990 Holden Commodore sedan at about 8am when they collided head-on with a similar blue northbound Commodore driven by a 17-year-old P-plate driver from the Lower Clarence.

The accident occurred at Tabbimoble, about 15 kilometres south of New Italy, in wet and slippery conditions at the notorious black-spot stretch of the Pacific Highway between Ballina and Grafton.

The Pacific Highway was closed until midday and traffic was diverted to the Summerland Way at Woodburn and Maclean.

It is believed the teenager failed to negotiate a bend after overtaking a truck, and crossed over into the south-bound oncoming traffic.

Ambulance District Manager Greg Powell was overseeing the operation and reported that the young driver and his 16-year-old passenger, also from the Lower Clarence, were taken from the scene by ambulance and conveyed to the Westpac Lifesaver Rescue Helicopter which landed one kilometre to the south.

The boys Gunther Barwick, 16, and Travis McDonagh, 17, are both students at Maclean High School.

They were airlifted to Lismore Base Hospital and treated for facial, head and limb injuries and are reported to be in a serious but stable condition.

Police said the driver also underwent mandatory blood and urine tests.

Richmond Local Area Commander, Superintendent Bruce Lyons, personally attended the crash-scene within an hour of it being reported and made an emotional plea to drivers to slow down.

“This is a very sad situation. When I walk down the road there to see two lives lost; I am just lost for words,” he said.

“It appears speed was a factor in this accident. The poor man in the car had no chance and the witnesses here did their best to support the dear lady who shortly after lost her life.

“It is clear when it comes to tragedies like this we can see how fragile life is on the roads.

"Drivers must remember when we get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle we are behind the wheel of a potential weapon.

“Everyone must drive to the road conditions in a safe and defensive manner.”

Police from Woodburn and Lismore attended with Richmond Highway Patrol and the Ballina Crash Investigation Unit.

Ambulance officers from Yamba, Maclean and Evans Head treated the injured teenagers and several bystanders for minor injuries sustained while assisting the victims.

A truck driver, believed to have witnessed the accident, was treated for shock at the scene.

The man who initially assisted the couple is a regular traveller on the Pacific Highway and, though shocked, was not surprised the crash occurred.

“This section of the highway is a very unsafe road, especially in the wet,” he said.

“I drive between Sydney and Brisbane all the time. I really wish I wasn’t here today. I feel so sad for the couple, and for the younger, obviously inexperienced driver.

“A guy came by just before saying how all the bleeding-hearts would now be out whinging about the highway – but the fact is it’s ludicrous the road is like this in this day and age.

“It’s one of the busiest roads in Australia and it’s just two undivided lanes. It’s radically different to the road to Canberra.

“It’s no wonder they call it the Pathetic Highway.”

Julie O’Driscol, owner of the nearby New Italy Cafe and Museum, said they were used to serious accidents on the notorious stretch but had still being holding their breath since hearing the sirens.

“People come in from that long stretch from Grafton relieved to find us here,” she said.

“European tourists are always very surprised when they learn this is one of our busiest roads and it’s only one lane each way.”


Northern Region fatalities have reached five for the year, exceeding the same period last year by two deaths.

It is the highest fatality rate outside the Sydney region and constitutes 15 per cent of the State’s road toll.

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