MYSTERY DEATH: What really happened to Aaron?
HOURS before an Iluka man was found unconscious on the pavement of Ballina's River Street with serious head injuries, he was in a jovial mood and shouting strangers drinks at the Rous Hotel.
Aaron Marks was discovered by a member of the public at 2am last Sunday and subsequently died of his wounds at 1.30pm on Wednesday, May 16, after three days on life support.
His movements between midnight and 2am on May 13 remain a mystery and police are baffled as no witnesses have yet come forward.
The Northern Star has attempted to re-trace his steps in those final few hours.
It is understood the 38-year-old was enjoying a night out on the town when he arrived at the Hotel Henry Rous at 9pm on Saturday night. He was alone, but in a lively mood.
He was seen shouting drinks to people he'd just met, handing out generous tips to the female bartenders, and striking up conversations with strangers at the bar.
At approximately 11:55pm he was seen leaving the licensed premises with a young man heading down Moon Street.
It was believed he was walking towards Winston Lane, and heading towards the Australian Hotel.
After a thorough scan of CCTV footage, both the manager and police confirmed Mr Marks never made it to the Australian Hotel that night, so where did he go?
A Northern Star source said he believed the man was staying at the Heritage Inn directly opposite where he was found on Sunday morning.
A Ballina security guard with over 25 years experience said he suspected foul play.
"I'm speculating here, but experience tells me this would be definitely an assault," he said.
"I believe it would be something like that to cause those sorts of injuries.
"Everybody, male and female, has the ability to kill someone with one punch and that's the scary part about it, people just don't think of their actions before they do things."
The security guard said he had definitely noticed a change in drinking culture over the last two decades.
"Years ago, when you accidentally bumped into someone you would apologise and shake their hand and maybe buy each other a drink... these days it just turns into a fight," he said.
Aaron's sister-in-law Antonia Mercorella said she and her husband Brent Marks only became aware of what happened when Ballina detectives contacted them on Monday morning.
"When the doctor examined him, they did confirm the injuries were consistent with an assault," Ms Mercorella said.
"My understanding is that he had some facial injuries too and obviously some serious head injuries."
Ms Mercorella said she did not know why her brother-in-law was in Ballina last weekend.
"He grew up on the Sunshine Coast, that's where he is from, but I can only assume he moved (to Iluka) for work," she said.
"The last time (we) spoke would be in the last couple of months I'd say.
"Whether he was staying overnight in Ballina as suggested I honestly don't know if that is true or not."
The couple are now pleading for anyone with information to come forward and talk to police.
"What's happened is dreadful and we want to ensure whoever has done it gets caught," Ms Mercorella said.
"Our concern is it is going to be forgotten about."
Ballina Shire Mayor David Wright said the incident was completely out of character for the town.
"This seems fairly random, it's just unbelievable that it happened and nobody seems to know the circumstances behind (it)," Cr Wright said.
Cr Wright said he was devastated to hear the man had succumbed to his injuries.
"It was bad enough that someone was attacked but if he has died that's horrible," he said.
"(However) I'm fairly certain with the quality of police we've got, they will find out who is responsible."
Enquiries are ongoing as the NSW homicide squad and Richmond Police District's Strike Force Bulgundara continue to investigate the circumstances surrounding the incident.
Anyone with information in relation to this incident to call Ballina Detectives on 6681 8699 or Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or use the Crime Stoppers online reporting page: https://nsw.crimestoppers.com.au/.
Information you provide will be treated in the strictest of confidence.