Robert Fox dies on road to Grafton
ROBERT Fox received a phone call at his Coutts Crossing home about 9pm on Tuesday night in the middle of one of the most intense downpours the area had ever seen.
Mr Fox's friends were on the line from Grafton Base Hospital letting him know that all was well and could he come and get them.
A few minutes later, Mr Fox said goodbye to his wife Sue and headed for Grafton in the bucketing rain.
Other locals who had also driven in the area on Tuesday night described how the windscreen wipers could not keep up with the deluge.
Mr Fox, reported by his long-time friend and neighbour Alma Bowling to be an extremely safe driver, would have crept along Armidale Rd until his Kia Rio hit water on the road in a gully about a kilometre past McCarthys Rd and stopped.
What happened from there is unclear, but authorities and locals have speculated that Mr Fox stepped out of his car and either fell or was swept into a roadside culvert on the western side of the road at a depth of 1.6m.
"If he had seen it, he would never have driven through it," said Mrs Bowling.
Whether he went through the drain or was washed across the top of the road may never be known, but Mr Fox's vehicle was found on the road up to half an hour after his mishap and witnesses took some time to locate his body.
A nurse who was driving home to Coutts Crossing from Grafton saw people pulling Mr Fox from the eastern side of the road about 10.50pm and stopped to help.
The nurse, who asked not to be named, said she gave Mr Fox CPR after early reports that someone at the scene had found a weak pulse.
She complained that the ambulance took 35 minutes to reach the scene, reportedly from a job at Cowper.
"I'm not sure we could have saved him, but it just highlights the lack of service and makes me feel really unsafe living at Coutts Crossing," she said.
An Ambulance NSW spokesman said Grafton Ambulance had tried to call "three or four" off-duty paramedics who were either unreachable or unavailable.
He confirmed an ambulance was dispatched to the scene at 10.52pm but had to travel "a considerable distance" before reaching the scene at 11.28pm.
While some in the area complained that there were no warning signs about the water, Mrs Bowling was more understanding, saying authorities wouldn't have had time considering the intensity of the rain.
Another Coutts local, Des Henwood, said he had never seen water over the road at the scene of the fatality.
Speaking on behalf of the Fox family, Mrs Bowling said "Bob was a real gentleman" who would be sorely missed by the Coutts Crossing community".
He was well known for being generous with his time and would "do anything for anyone".
Mr Fox spent many years working with disabled people before being forced into retirement due to a battle with motor neurone disease.
Coffs/Clarence Local Area Commander Superintendent Mark Holahan said this was a tragic incident which could have been avoided.
"Along with the NSW State Emergency Service we have been urging people, whether they are driving, walking or riding, to never enter flood-affected areas," he said.