The second it takes to land a punch was all that was needed to shatter the lives of two young men and leave them irretrievably altered.
In a moment of drunken bravado on the noisy and uninhibited streets of Northbridge — the scene of many foolish, alcohol-fuelled mistakes which end in unintentional tragedy — Luke Adams and Dylan Winter crossed paths.
Eighteen months later, one man has made a remarkable recovery from death’s door and the other has endured a jail sentence hanging over his head. The strangers’ brief, random face-off on Lake Street ended up before a jury this month, to examine the facts coldly and dispassionately.
After two weeks of evidence with Mr Winter arguing self-defence, the 12 jurors took just two hours to return a not-guilty verdict.
Much has been reported about Mr Adams, the promising WAFL ruckman for Swan Districts, defying the medical odds. Doctors did not expect him to survive his catastrophic head injuries, let alone walk, talk and resume football training.He has also become the face of an anti-street violence campaign, The Luke Adams Foundation.
Inspirational as his comeback has been, this was not what the trial was about.
Up until Mr Winter’s assault trial started, the full story of the night of April 30 into the morning of May 1 last year has remained largely untold.
Both men, then still teenagers, started April 30 with nothing but an intention to celebrate and have a good time with mates.
Mr Winter, then an 18-year-old apprentice, and a group of about 10 friends had planned a weekend with a difference — booking two rooms in a city hotel, driving to Perth from their homes in the Rockingham area and venturing into Northbridge to celebrate one mate’s farewell and recent birthdays of two others.
Meanwhile, Mr Adams, a 19-year-old university student and aspiring sportsman, had played a game at Peel Oval that day and after drinks at a friend’s house headed into the nightclub precinct with teammates for a big Saturday night. Little did either know that by 2.30am the next day, Mr Adams would be unconscious on the pavement bleeding profusely with his life hanging in the balance and Mr Winter, in panic and fear, had fled the scene of his one and only punch.
Mr Winter and his friends encountered problems with security staff at two clubs — first over a dress code dispute at The Paramount and then just after 1.30am some of his drunk friends were evicted from The Library nightclub after “play fighting” and head-(butting each other.
After one of Mr Winter’s mates, who was kicked out, spat at a bouncer, there was chaos. CCTV vision shows Mr Winter in a fracas with two bouncers — one who was recorded punching him repeatedly about the head as a colleague held him in a bear hug. Their fight ended when Mr Winter gave one bouncer a “light jab” and walked away.
After a delay examining security footage, police dealt with the group, including Mr Winter, who the jury was told denied being angry and was in a “good mood” and taking photographs with female friends during the wait outside the club, by issuing them with move-on notices.
Mr Winter told police he didn’t care about the move-on order because the night was over anyway. He could not have been more wrong.
In the 50 minutes that Mr Winter’s group had been waiting outside The Library, a clearly drunk Mr Adams was captured on camera nearby swaying on wobbly feet leaving The Deen nearby with friends.
After a brief stop at a pizza shop, Mr Adams and his friend Travis Gray continued down Lake Street and headed to The Capitol nightclub on Murray Street.
The pair were captured on CCTV walking along Lake Street, outside the Hog’s Breath Cafe, dancing and swinging on street poles. The fight was only moments away.
A series of business and City of Perth CCTV cameras filmed the two groups’ movements in the lead-up to the confrontation, but the fight and punch was blocked by the headlights of a taxi.
That meant the jury had to rely on witness accounts, which were often conflicting and foggy about who did what and who was where.
The fuse, it appears, was lit when Mr Winter’s close friend Jake Ward and his girlfriend Kara Hagen argued along Lake Street and heard a “seedy” remark from a tall stranger, believed to be Mr Adams, from across the street. The comment could have been something like: “Break up already.”
Mr Ward reacted angrily and he and Mr Adams were said to be challenging and egging each other on. At this stage Mr Winter entered the scene, possibly running up to confront the stranger, because, as he told detectives, he wanted to back up his mate and knew a fight was on the cards.
Crucial evidence came from Mr Gray, who admitted Mr Adams said to him moments before he was punched: “Come on, Travvy, let’s smash these c….” Before Mr Winter ended the row with his fist, at most it had been a push and shove confrontation and at least a shouting match.
Mr Winter, who had been training regularly in the martial art of Muay Thai for two months, claimed it was Mr Adams’ comment, “I’m going to smash you” after he told him to back off that made him throw the punch. He swung to avoid getting hit first, he said.
The force of the punch, whether Mr Winter was pushed or hit to the ground before he struck Mr Adams, how many people were involved in the altercation before the blow and if relationships tainted witnesses’ evidence were a few of many issues in contention, which the jury may not necessarily have been able to resolve.
Mr Winter fled the scene and others rushed to help Mr Adams. The jury was told he later told friends at the hotel: “I hope he’s OK.”
It was clear the “crack” noise that Mr Adams’ head made as it smashed into the ground will be a sound hard to forget.
By 9pm on May 1, police had arrived at Mr Winter’s Secret Harbour home, his parents’ house, arresting him and warning him he could be facing a homicide charge if Mr Adams did not pull through.
Around that time, Mr Adams’ parents Gary and Kaylene were faced with the choice of whether they should switch off their son’s life support.
Mr Adams, whom Mr Gray described as a “s… stirrer” and “joker”, was one witness who remembered nothing for obvious reasons. Mr Adams, who attended court every day, couldn’t deny the accusations levelled against him about his behaviour in the confrontation.
Interestingly, about half of Mr Winter’s group of friends, including key player Mr Ward, were not called to give evidence.
Prosecutor Amanda Forrester explained the prosecution could not call witnesses it knew would be unreliable or hostile.
While tensions were tangible during the two-week trial with two clearly divided camps, it emerged the incident that brought them to court was not a one-way street.
This was a fight that involved drunk young men, who were reckless with their words and actions and not averse to a confrontation.
Wearing a suit and spectacles, the image of Mr Winter, who has a clean record, in the dock, looking almost bookish, is a far cry from the stereotypical appearance of a thug.
Both Mr Adams and Mr Winter and their families probably wish they had never encountered each other.With scars stretching across his skull, Mr Adams is grateful to be alive, but the 21-year-old is not the same man he was 18 months ago. Arguably, Mr Winter, 20, is not either.