Police Life: The Experts podcast, Episode 2: Collision course transcript

After a blind man and his guide dog are killed by a car on a country road, the driver claims the victims had walked out in front of him. But when the Major Collision Investigation Unit casts its meticulous eye over the case, holes begin to appear in his story.

Listen to this episode and other episodes of Victoria Police's official podcast, Police Life: The Experts.

Transcript of Police Life: The Experts podcast, Episode 2: Collision course

Voiceover: You’re listening to Police Life: The Experts, a Victoria Police podcast shining a light on our people and their extraordinary skills.

Voiceover: This podcast episode contains potentially distressing content, with references to the deaths of people and animals. 

It’s not recommended for children. If you feel you need assistance after listening, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14. If life is in danger, call Triple Zero (000).

[Suspenseful music plays]

Audio of Detective Acting Senior Sergeant Jenelle Hardiman: This is a job that is worth giving of our time. I said, "My heart will always tell me that Ray was on the shoulder". 

And I said, "I don't know if we'll ever prove it, but we need to try”.

Voiceover: At 6:30am, June the 2nd 2019, the lives of two people, their families and loved ones intersected on a country highway. 

The media carried the story, a 62-year-old blind man and his guide dog were walking into Wedderburn in central Victoria for a gym session. 

They were struck by a vehicle and died at the scene. 

The driver, a 22-year-old P-plater, was not charged. He told police the victim and his dog were walking down the middle of the road. 

Audio of Detective Leading Senior Constable Heath Thomas: I know it's dark, but he's wearing a fluorescent vest and he's covered in lights. 

They used to call him the walking Christmas tree. How could you not see him?

Voiceover: Ray Meadows was one of 263 people who lost their lives on Victorian roads in 2019. 

Gerry the black Labrador by his side. It could have ended there, as another tragic accident.

However, critical work was carried out by local police that morning. The evidence they gathered would later turn the collision site into a crime scene. 

[Dramatic music plays]

Voiceover: The job by Victoria Police’s Major Collision Investigation Unit in tandem with the Collision Reconstruction Unit would break new ground and deliver justice to a grieving family.

Audio of Detective Acting Senior Sergeant Jenelle Hardiman: Early on, I felt like I was the only person who actually believed what now everybody believes. 

So, I felt like I was sort of on my own and I had to keep bringing people in.

Voiceover: You could say the work on this case began on the resort island of Bali, Indonesia. A dog lover on holidays heard the story on the news. 

That dog lover also happened to be a Victoria Police officer, and one of Australia’s best forensic crash investigators.   

Audio of Detective Acting Senior Sergeant Jenelle Hardiman: My name's Jenelle Hardiman. I'm a Detective Acting Senior Sergeant with the Collision Reconstruction Unit. 

We're attached to Forensic Services Department. 

I've been with Victoria Police since 1996, but I've been solely working as a collision reconstructionist for the past 17 years.

Predominantly, we're asked to work out how fast cars are travelling. 

We're also looking to position cars on the road, determine their pre-impact behaviour, because this all works towards what the driver was doing prior to the crash. 

Was the driver alert? Were they conscious? 

Were they deliberately inputting acceleration, braking, steering? What was their behaviour to either cause or avoid a collision?

This is undoubtedly the job I'm most proud of, of 1500.

I was away on holidays at the time with my husband who's also a collision reconstructionist with Victoria Police. 

And we were sitting there one night and we'd come back to our room and we were just catching up with the news back home. And my life is about crashes. 

And there was a crash in Victoria and I saw that a vision-impaired man and his guide dog had been killed. 

I knew that Mel McFarlane, one of our other reconstructionists, was on. 

A bit like myself, a dog lover. I thought, "Oh gosh, Mel's had to go to that job". And I sent her a message and I said, "You didn't get that job, did you?".

And she said, "No, I didn't get a call, but no one went". And by ‘no one went’, that means Major Collision Unit didn't go. 

And I said, “What do you mean, Major Collision Unit didn't go?”. And she said, "No, the blind man and his dog were walking down the middle of the road". 

And I remember, I'll never forget saying to Mick, "Since when have our guide dogs walked down the middle of the road?”.

Voiceover: The Major Collision Investigation Unit doesn’t automatically get involved when there is a road fatality. 

The job has to meet criteria, including whether it can be alleged that someone has caused the death of another person through their negligence. 

On average, the MCIU, part of Victoria Police’s Road Policing Command, investigates about 140 collisions each year.

Detective Sergeant Roz Wilson is the longest serving of the almost 50 officers that make up the MCIU, having been in the unit for 24 years.

Audio of Detective Sergeant Roz Wilson: We deal with everyday members of the community. So our offenders are not hardened criminals. 

They're just like you and I. We only have a small minority of people that we deal with, that would fit in the other category. 

But yeah, we have victims that come from nice families and homes, we have people that have caused these that come from nice families and homes. 

And we might be the first people that these people who have caused this collision come in contact with as far as police and being interviewed and going through those sort of processes. 

But you can have so many campaigns, you can have so many warnings and information out there that people should be aware of that when you get behind the wheel of a car, you're driving a lethal weapon.

Voiceover: A bad decision behind the wheel can have long lasting impacts. It’s made worse if the driver refuses to be honest with police, as happened after the death of Ray Meadows and his guide dog. 

Early on, the evidence did not support a referral to the MCIU. 

The driver had told his story, it raised questions in the minds of attending police, not enough to get the MCIU on the job.

Audio of Detective Sergeant Roz Wilson: There has to be a victim that's either lost their life or is life-threatened. There has to be a driver that is believed to be the cause of that, that's surviving. 

So our offences can range from like a dangerous driving, taking into consideration of all the circumstances, which could be driving down and failing to stop at a red light, going through and impacting a pedestrian; to someone that's doing high speed on a freeway, overtaking cars on double lines, affected by alcohol, which would put them into a culpable driving range. 

So we're not the first units on the scene. The first responders get there. If there's people injured, then we would expect emergency services and people to come in to do what they need to do to get to those people to save them.

So the local members obviously get the first calls from Triple-0. They'll go to a scene and straightaway try and make an assessment. And the vibe that they'll get obviously from the notifications are the significant injuries that are involved, so already they'll probably turn their mind to thinking that it may end up being a notification for us.

Voiceover: Meeting the criteria for a referral to MCIU can also be an intuitive process, following a hunch, as Jenelle did after her Bali holiday.

Audio of Detective Acting Senior Sergeant Jenelle Hardiman: It just didn't make sense to me. And I said to Mick, "This doesn't make sense". 

We're trying to have a break from crashes and so that was essentially the last I thought of it at that point, but about 10 days later when I was back in the office, and I triage the jobs as they come in, I assigned this one to myself. I've got a particular interest in pedestrian collisions.

I was sent a large amount of information from the local members, and they'd even gone back and tried to re-enact it themselves with the lighting that was on the day. 

From the measurements that I'd been provided from the scene, it suggested that Ray had been impacted at about 40 kilometres per hour, but we had a driver admitting that he was travelling 90 to 100 kilometres per hour. 

What we know from research is that only about 5 per cent of people who are pedestrians, who are impacted in collisions at 50 kilometres per hour or less, only about 5 per cent sustain fatal injuries. 

So if he was impacted at 40 kilometres per hour, we wouldn't expect him to have the fatal injuries that he had. 

The damage to the car also wasn't consistent with 40 kilometres per hour. So I thought, “Okay, we've got an issue here”. 

So I contacted, who at the time was the informant, Paul Nicol, and I said, "How certain are you about where Ray had come to rest?". 

And he said, "Really certain. He was still there when we got there, they were working on him. We're really certain where he came to rest”. 

We've got scuffing. And one of the first things that we look for in a pedestrian collision is a scuff to indicate where the pedestrian was actually impacted. 

So the scuff that they had identified was in the running lane of the car. It was 13 metres from where Ray had ultimately come to rest, but it couldn't be correct. 

What had been identified as an impact scuff was, in my opinion, in fact, the remnants of a previous animal that had been killed in the area. 

So OK, well, so where was he? Where was he when he was impacted? 

My gut always told me they were on the shoulder, but I had to work out how I was going to prove it.

Voiceover: While this work was going on, Jenelle was thinking about which of MCIU’s investigators she wanted to take on the job.

Audio of Detective Acting Senior Sergeant Jenelle Hardiman: So our role as collision reconstructionists, particularly out here at Forensic Services Department, we don't speak to those involved in the collision at all, and in some ways, I wonder whether that's why I have been able to work in this line of work for so long. 

I do look at the collision from a step back to the investigators, and I don't envy their work at all. I think their work has a much more limited timeline. I don't know if you can work in their line forever.

Audio of Detective Leading Senior Constable Heath Thomas: So Heath Thomas is my name. I'm a detective leading senior constable at the Major Collision Investigation Unit. 

I've been there about four and a half years and Victoria Police as a whole, about 15.

Jenelle Hardiman and her husband, Mick Hardiman, came to me one morning in MCIU, and they had this file for me, and they were selling it to me. 

They said, "Hey, this investigation is going to be really hard, but it could be amazing".

Audio of Detective Acting Senior Sergeant Jenelle Hardiman: This is a job that is worth giving of our time. I said, "My heart will always tell me that Ray was on the shoulder". 

And I said, "I don't know if we'll ever prove it, but we need to try. And we need to try for Ray, we need to try for Gerry, we need to try for Ray’s family, we need to try for Gerry’s trainer, we just need to try”. 

And credit to him, he said, "Let’s do it. Yep, let’s give it a go”.

Voiceover: Jenelle and Heath set about proving that the driver, Billy-Jo Salter, had lied about where he struck Ray and Gerry, who had been walking in the opposite direction. 

The two officers demonstrated the best of the hand-in-glove relationship their two units share.   

Audio of Detective Acting Senior Sergeant Jenelle Hardiman: We had to go back and look at the actual road design quite carefully. The road looked straight, but it wasn't dead straight, it curved very slightly to the right. 

We also had to look at the crossfall. So if you think about when you're travelling along in a car, if you take your hands off the steering wheel, unless the road is dead straight with no crossfall and your steering is perfect, unless all that lines up, you'll veer off the road one direction or the other.

So assuming that the vehicle had perfect steering, the crossfall on the road will mean if you don't put steering into the car to counteract that crossfall, you will actually run off the road.

Voiceover: Jenelle inspected the red 2015 Toyota Corolla, a hire car driven by Salter. It was still in a country mechanic’s shed.

Audio of Detective Acting Senior Sergeant Jenelle Hardiman: So the next thing I did was to download the airbag control module out of the vehicle. And what that gave us was five seconds of pre-crash data. 

It gave us the speed of the vehicle in the five seconds prior. It told us that the vehicle was on cruise control, and it also gave us a steering angle.

So I needed to try and work out the area of impact using the information that was in the airbag control module, and I had never done that before. 

So we went back initially to Toyota, and we said, "What can you tell us about this?". And they said, "Yeah, well it can be done, but we're not exactly sure". 

So then I went to the United States and started speaking to people over there. Essentially, I spoke to anyone that would talk back. 

I think they got quite sick of the woman from Australia that was desperately trying to find this information. So I kept working and went to an expert in the United States who essentially trained me on how to work out from the steering data what the vehicle was doing. 

What I proved using some computer programs and just a calculator and a pen and paper was that, to counteract the curvature of the road and the crossfall, a driver would need to input between nine and 12 degrees of steering to stay travelling straight.

So when we went back to that data, it showed that in the five seconds prior to impact, he never input more than three degrees. 

And, in fact, my work with Toyota showed that up to three degrees is no steering. So the driver, being Billy-Jo, did not steer at all in the five seconds up to the crash. 

So my ideas were starting to run and that was that Ray was on the shoulder and that the vehicle had left the road to the left. 

Knowing he'd been impacted at 95 kilometres per hour, Ray should have been thrown about 49 metres. 

So the original measurement that I was given was 13 metres, but he should have been thrown 49. So I now had a longitudinal distance to work with, so I knew where Ray had come to rest and I could work back to 49 metres. 

But that didn't tell me where on the road laterally. Was it on the shoulder? Was it off the shoulder? Was it in the oncoming lane? 

Now I knew from that data and the road design he'd gone left, but how far was it? Had he gone far enough to stay in his lane? Had he just gone to the shoulder? Had he completely run off the road altogether?

Voiceover: As Jenelle worked the numbers to prove where Ray and Gerry were impacted, Heath Thomas was gathering evidence to corroborate the data. 

He came to know the late Ray Meadows, his daily routines and habits. Was he likely to have walked on the road? 

Audio of Detective Leading Senior Constable Heath Thomas: Ray Meadows was a man who lived in Wedderburn on the outskirts of town. 

He was a retired roof tiler and he lived there with his wife, Valma. They lived there for many years. He'd been walking into town for at least 15 years unassisted. 

And particularly speaking to his wife, Valma, he'd said, “I'm very happy. I'm very happy. I've got you, I've got my dog and I’m very happy”. 

To have this seeing eye dog, Gerry, really opened things up for him. And I think that was, I suppose, a new chapter in his life. He still had a lot of life left to live.

Voiceover: Ray had begun his partnership with Gerry just two months before his death.  They had received training and safety assessment with the organisation, Seeing Eye Dogs. 

The trainer, Yoav Ortov, formed a bond with Ray.

Audio of Detective Leading Senior Constable Heath Thomas: Yoav is world renowned as a trainer, so Yoav actually went to Wedderburn and stayed with Ray and Valma, and he stayed there a week or so. 

And during this time they went through all the things that Ray would do – that he was going to be crossing a road that was this busy, but knowing Ray has negotiated it without a dog for 15 years without incident would have given comfort to Yoav in that planning. 

But that's also, of course, a point that came up during the investigation is going, “Well hang on, how has this happened?”. 

If we're talking someone who's been able to negotiate this road without incident for 15 years, he's going to be standing on it when a car comes?

Voiceover: Heath spoke to Ray’s daughter, Kristen Evans, who shared these concerns. Ray’s wife, Valma, contributed important information on the lights that Ray always wore front and back.

Audio of Detective Leading Senior Constable Heath Thomas: So even though he is vision impaired, he could see light or dark. The flashing lights he used to wear into town, he could see that they were on by holding them up to his eyes, but he had no real vision or no vision to perceive things much further than that. 

Valma had seen Ray and Gerry leaving the address and all the lights flashing, which was important for us. And then later in a statement, she said, “I heard the bang, heard the noise, the strike noise”. 

Now, Valma's not very mobile and it took her some time to make her way up to the front of the address, which is, it happened almost directly at the front, it's a short way up the road. And so she was able to spend some time with Ray and Gerry before he died.

[Emotive music plays]

Voiceover: During the interview with our producer, the memory of dealing with Valma’s loss came back to Heath.

Audio of producer: "I see how distressing this is for you."

Audio of Detective Leading Senior Constable Heath Thomas: "Yeah, it’s tough."

Audio of producer: "Billy-Jo didn’t drive away."

Audio of Detective Leading Senior Constable Heath Thomas: "No, no. "[Short silence] 

"Billy, um – pardon me. I want to take a minute." 

[Emotive music plays and Audio of Detective Leading Senior Constable Heath Thomas moves away to compose himself]

Audio of Detective Leading Senior Constable Heath Thomas: "All the collisions we attend are tragic and that's plain to see but, in this instance, it really, really bothered people that a man and his guide dog were killed.  

"Two beings who are particularly vulnerable and the fact that they were struck down on the side of the road just going about their business, it really did dig into people.

"Billy-Jo – yeah, what to say of Billy-Jo. He's a bit of a loner. I mean, he does have friends, but he didn't have a great deal of friends. 

"A bit of an outsider would be how I describe him. He likes listening to music and watching YouTube and such but didn't really have many aspirations. 

"He wasn't working at the time. He was just living in his parents’ old place in Bridgewater, having friends stay over and staying up late."

Voiceover: Heath read over the evidence Salter gave to police at the time of the collision. 

Audio of Detective Leading Senior Constable Heath Thomas: He has said he's been out with his friends, etcetera, earlier in the night. And they've been driving around a bit, done a run to Maccas, which out in the country is quite a run to go from Wedderburn to Bendigo and back. 

And then early in the morning he's left at about six. 

He was staying with [censored], one of his friends. They had been watching videos and YouTube and doing karaoke and things during the night, all harmless fun, but he'd been up all night. 

[Censored] had said that he could stay with her because she said she was getting very tired. And he said, “Nup, I'm gunna go home. I'm gunna go home and I’m gunna watch YouTube.” 

So that's exactly what he did. He got in his car and he drove out of town, out of Wedderburn, towards his home in Bridgewater. 

At the same time, Ray Meadows is leaving to go to the gym with Gerry, and he wears his fluorescent vest and he puts his lights on. He would wear flashing lights, unbelievably bright lights, and he puts these on his backpack, one on the shoulder and a few on his back. 

And he walks out up the driveway and crosses the road and is walking into Wedderburn. 

Billy-Jo drives out of town and a short distance before reaching the point where Ray is, his vehicle drifts off the road to the left and strikes Ray and strikes Gerry and throws them forward onto the road where they died. 

So Billy didn't leave the scene. He hopped in his car, his phone was dead. There was a cactus farm nearby, apparently, and he was going to raise the alarm by hopping in his car and driving there. 

And then headlights appeared, according to him, and he's done a U-turn and driven back.

Voiceover: After returning to the crime scene, Billy-Jo Salter flagged down a passing car. 

Audio of Detective Leading Senior Constable Heath Thomas: Wendy Rawady, who's the first on the scene, she says the dog was still alive. Billy-Jo himself has said he could hear the dog, that he couldn't stand the screams of the dog. 

Wendy, she was first on scene, she went looking for the man. He said, “I think I've hit and killed somebody”. And she went looking and found Gerry first and then she found Ray. Ray was still alive when the ambulance arrived and they worked on him, but they weren’t able to save him.

Voiceover: Salter made a critical admission to Wendy: he had a dash camera in the car. Later he changed his story: there was a dash cam but there was no storage card. 

Audio of Detective Leading Senior Constable Heath Thomas: And then I think shortly after saying, "I've got a camera", he'd be thinking, "Oh, I've got a camera. I wish I didn't have a camera. I don't think it's going to show me in a very good light in this collision.” 

His initial account was more or less, “They've come out of nowhere, it wasn't my fault, I was driving, they came out of nowhere” and he’s hit them. 

He was very distressed, it is fair to say. He was really upset by what had happened. His version of events that was not truthful was enough to sort of throw the investigation off in the early phases.

Voiceover: Heath set about unpicking Salter’s story. If Ray and Gerry had come out of nowhere as he claimed, exactly what did Salter see? 

Crash reconstructions would play an important role in providing the answer. 

Audio of Detective Leading Senior Constable Heath Thomas: Paul Nicholl, the local member, took it upon himself to run his own tests before it got moved back to our office. 

He did a drive through with lights and he did it with high beam, low beam, one light, two lights.

Voiceover: Heath and Jenelle carried out tests at the scene on two occasions, simulating the exact conditions on the morning of the crash.

Audio of Detective Leading Senior Constable Heath Thomas: I went up there with Jenelle in an identical vehicle that Jenelle had sourced and conducted some drive-throughs to see how the vehicle would perform without the steering.

But the second set, I did some digging around as to the exact types of lights, because Ray Meadows used to wear these flashing lights, because that was the other aspect that didn't make sense – how could you not see this man? 

I know it's dark, but he's wearing a fluorescent vest and he's covered in lights. They used to call him the walking Christmas tree. How could you not see him?

[In-car audio from the drive-through tests plays]

Audio of Detective Leading Senior Constable Heath Thomas: "Test one, it is 6:06, low beams, four lights. [Pause] Start walking mate."

Audio of Detective Leading Senior Constable Heath Thomas: We got Jenelle's husband, Mick Hardiman, to wear the vest and we got Jenelle's dog, a black Labrador, and went through the scene in the same car, the Corolla.

[In-car audio from the drive-through tests plays]

Audio of Detective Leading Senior Constable Heath Thomas: "Test two, four lights, low beams, time is 6:08am. Can you hear me, Mick? We’re about to commence our second run."

[Audio from in-car police radio plays in background]

[double beep]

Audio of Detective Leading Senior Constable Heath Thomas: "Test four, high beams, four lights operating."

[double beep]

"Test five, three lights, low beam."

[double beep]

"Test six, it is 6:21am, low beams with three lights." 

[double beep]

"Test seven, the time is 6:25am. We have three lights and high beams operating."

[Audio of car driving off]

Audio of Detective Leading Senior Constable Heath Thomas: And I think by this point I was driving Jenelle a bit mad by the different trips up to Wedderburn for the different theories. 

I think it was well worth doing. It certainly showed that the visibility was great.

Voiceover: There was a dash cam in Salter’s vehicle but after revealing this, he had second thoughts, claiming to police the device had no storage card in it.

Audio of Detective Leading Senior Constable Heath Thomas: The SD card was, of course, a big one, because why would you have a dash cam without an SD card?

Voiceover: But a big breakthrough happened when Heath found that Salter’s story may not be true.

Audio of Detective Leading Senior Constable Heath Thomas: All of a sudden, having that information that someone said, “this is what happened”. 

And Jenelle's right. We're right. We're on the right track. It's exciting. 

I went back up to Wedderburn, and what we did find out was the existence of another woman called [censored]

And we went out and saw [censored] and I took a statement from her, and she told us about how he said that he had disposed of the SD card, like he said that she had told him. 

So we've basically got direct evidence of a conversation she's had with him about this SD card being destroyed.

Voiceover: This woman also claimed Salter threatened to kill her on two occasions if she told anyone about the SD card. Heath now felt he had enough evidence to arrest Salter.

Audio of Detective Leading Senior Constable Heath Thomas: We had the statement from [censored] saying he destroyed the SD card. We had all the reconstruction that Jenelle had put together based upon, of course, the scene, the vehicle.

Not long after this collision occurred, he got a new girlfriend and was with her and they'd been living at her place but now they'd moved up to Shepparton. 

And so we worked out where he was and we went and we arrested him. 

He was very distressed, he was a bit confused. And then as soon as I told him he was under arrest, he was very upset. And he had family there, his girlfriend and her family, they were very supportive of him. 

I immediately put him in touch with an independent third person who I'd arranged, and I had her on the telephone and I handed him the phone. 

I told him he was under arrest and gave him his caution and his rights and then handed him the phone straight away so she could reassure him because he was really upset. 

Then we took him back to the Shepparton Police Station and interviewed him again. The interview was quite long and arduous.

Voiceover: Salter maintained his innocence and denied getting rid of the damning evidence. But this young man was not a hardened criminal, and under pressure the cracks were starting to show.   

Audio of Detective Leading Senior Constable Heath Thomas: After the interview, the long interview, he was placed into the police cells. And at this point, he let the custody staff there know that he wanted to speak to police again. 

And Jarrod Dwyer, who I was with, took my micro recorder and went in to speak to him and said, “I'm recording this, what have you got to say?”. 

And he said, “I wasn't truthful and I disposed of the SD card”. Going into the cell, I suppose, was a bit sobering for him, and I believe he sort of presented that as a bit of a bargaining chip. 

"Oh, I'll tell you, I did take the SD card." So we ended up taking him back out and interviewing him again over that element, and taking a statement from him, and then having to get him to read back the statement on tape, so it made for a very, very long night.

He was charged with dangerous driving causing death and destruction of evidence as head charges. There were also some assault charges, [censored] alleged that he had assaulted her shortly after he told her about destroying the SD card, and he threatened to kill her and a few other things is what she alleged.

It really came down to the fact that we were able to confirm that he destroyed that SD card, and we were able to determine exactly what had happened on the road through Jenelle's reconstruction and then through subsequent re-enactments that we'd done from that point.

Voiceover: When Heath heard Salter had broken up with his girlfriend, he knew he had a chance to strengthen the case even more. Heath made a cold-call visit to the ex-girlfriend, and she said Salter had confessed to her that he was off the road when the crash happened.

When Heath presented her statement to Salter and his defence, it didn’t take Salter long to plead guilty.

In December 2021, a County Court judge sentenced Billy-Jo Salter to three years and nine months jail for dangerous driving causing death and destroying evidence.

Audio of Detective Leading Senior Constable Heath Thomas: The sentencing remarks were interesting. I mean, they take into account, of course, his background and his childhood and things like that, and they were sympathetic in that regard. 

But where he got little sympathy was the fact that he's never provided an account, even now, which could bring some closure, I suppose, to the people, to the relatives of Meadows, of Ray. 

But she also made a point that he had effectively blamed Ray for his own death. 

And Ray's daughter, Kristen, mentioned that in her victim impact statement, she said, “You had us thinking that our father had, you know, it was his fault. You’ve blamed him, you've blamed a blind man for his own death. And to now know that you've done that to cover yourself”, it's just heartbreaking for her.

He never put his hand up to running off the road. Never. And he still hasn't. 

The closest I got to it was during the interview when I presented him with all of Jenelle's findings. 

He said, more or less, “If that's what the expert is saying, then maybe. But that's not what happened”, or, “That's not what I remember happening”. 

So he never said, "Oh, you got me, you got me. You've proven that's how it happened. Well yeah”. 

No, the whole time he just said, "If that's what the experts say, OK, but that's not what happened”, or, "That's not what I remember happening”.

Voiceover: An investigation is a search for the truth, in the interest of justice and in accordance with the specifications of the law. It doesn’t always provide all the answers for families. 

Audio of Detective Acting Senior Sergeant Jenelle Hardiman: I always know what I believe as to ‘why’. But the ‘why’ doesn't matter so much to me as just what did happen. 

I'm just trying to prove what did happen, why that happened. In a lot of cases, it really comes back to the investigation. 

The investigation is looking for ‘why’, I'm looking for ‘how’. How did it happen and who did what to make that happen. 

So in this case, it wasn't so much about what Billy-Jo did do, but rather what he didn't do. So by not applying steering to that car, for whatever the reason was – that, I have an opinion on, that's irrelevant.

Audio of Detective Leading Senior Constable Heath Thomas: Well, to be plain, the whole thing wouldn't have happened without Jenelle. If I'd have been, had this job dropped in my lap without Jenelle saying, "Hey, this is what I’ve got and we can work on this", then I don’t think it would have gone anywhere.

Audio of Detective Acting Senior Sergeant Jenelle Hardiman: I don't know whether he just, because I asked him to do it, that he just said yes or whether he was sold by my passion for the job, which I guess may have been part of it. 

But for whatever reason, he took it on and ultimately took it on as strongly as I did. And if it had just been the reconstruction, which there are people that suggest that proving where he was, was only one element of it, I still think it would have been left with the file put back in the cabinet and no one ever seeing a courtroom had it not been for the parallel investigation that was going on.

Audio of Detective Leading Senior Constable Heath Thomas: It's very satisfying. It was particularly so considering it was a difficult case to take it from the start and work through it and get to the result. 

There are instances where an investigation is long and hard and it doesn't go our way, but it can still be satisfying knowing that you've done a good job. But obviously getting the result is more satisfying because you can also give some closure to the family, and they often want that result.

Voiceover: Not every job ends like this for the MCIU. On limited occasions they cannot deliver justice for the community and that leaves a mark. 

But with technology, experience and the sheer passion of its staff, the Major Collision Investigation Unit, more often than not, gets the result.

Audio of Detective Acting Senior Sergeant Jenelle Hardiman: I would be lying if I said that I've done 1500 jobs that haven't taken any toll on me at all. You know, we certainly have coping mechanisms and we have self-preservation in place that allow us to do this type of work for so long and in such a large number. 

But it does take its toll, and I would be lying if there weren't jobs that affected me, this being one of them. But sometimes the greater the emotional impact, the harder you work for it. 

It never sat well with me that there was an allegation against a disability of someone and it just didn't sit well. 

And, in the end, had Ray been walking down the middle of the road, then that's what it was. But if that was the case, I needed to prove that, too. 

I needed to prove where he was, wherever that was, but it took an exorbitant amount of work from a lot of people. 

And in the end, I think we proved exactly, well, I don't think, I know we proved exactly what happened that day and exactly where Ray and Gerry were when they were hit by that car.

Voiceover: To learn more about the work of Victoria Police, go to police.vic.gov.au. 

And a reminder that if any of the themes in this episode have had an impact on you, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14. If life is in danger, call Triple Zero (000).

Voiceover: Police Life: The Experts is a Victoria Police production. 

Your host is Belinda Batty. It was written by Adam Shand. 

Additional writing and research by Jesse Wray-McCann. 

It was produced by Adam Shand and Jesse Wray-McCann.

 The senior producer was Ros Jaguar. 

Audio production and original music by Mat Dwyer.

 Theme song by Veaceslav Draganov. 

Executive produced by Beck Angel. 

This podcast was created by the Media, Communications and Engagement Department at Victoria Police.

Two officers from the  Major Collision Investigation Unit stand on the grass next to a two lane road. They are looking directly at the camera and wearing bright reflective police vests. There are cars in the background on the road behind them.