Man in court over Wedge Island death

Tayissa Barone, Gabrielle Knowles and Claire Tyrrell

UPDATE: A 23-year-old man has appeared in court charged with the murder of James Dorloff at a New Year’s Eve beach party at Wedge Island, north of Perth.

Mr Dorloff, 20, died after allegedly being attacked, possibly with a knife or machete, on the 400m-long Wedge Island, shortly before 1.30am on Wednesday.

Joseph Robert Houston, of Swan View, has been charged with his murder and with intent to do grievous bodily harm unlawfully wounding another.

Mr Houston appeared briefly in the Perth Magistrate's Court today and was remanded in custody on a seven-day hospital order for a mental health assessment.

He also faced unlawful wounding with intent to do grevious bodily harm charges for his alleged attack of 25-year-old Tyson Cumming.

Mr Houston allegedly used a machete to fatally wound Mr Dorloff and injure Mr Cumming, after a brawl broke out at an unauthorised beach party involving more than 600 people.

On the advice of a court liaison officer, Magistrate Michael Wheeler ordered Mr Houston to undergo a seven-day psychological assessment at Graylands Hospital's Frankland Centre.

Mr Houston is expected to appear in court again on January 9.

Outside court, Mr Houston's father choked back tears as he spoke to the media.

He extended his condolences to the Dorloff family before asking to be left alone.

"We don't know the full circumstances yet, but when we do it will all come out in the wash," he said.

Johnny Cady, who was with Mr Dorloff at the party, posted a photograph of his friend on Facebook with the caption: “Thank you for riding shotgun through this car wreck that is my life.”

Mr Dorloff, Mr Cady and a group of others had travelled to the northern outskirts of the Wedge Island settlement to bring in 2014 at an unauthorised dance party but the celebration ended in tragedy.

Party descended into chaos

"My best friend died in my arms last night and there was nothing I could do to help him," Mr Cady wrote on Facebook yesterday.

"Rest in the clouds James Dorloff. I love you brother."

The group of revellers had joined at least 600 others on a plain classified as part of the Wanagarren Nature Reserve, nestled in the area's sand dunes.

The area once only accessible by four-wheel-drive had cars parked on the plain's edges to light up the otherwise barren patch.

In the hours before the party started, police and Department of Parks and Wildlife rangers set up a road block to stop those without established accommodation from entering the settlement.

It is not known whether Mr Dorloff and his friends had access to a shack or if they, like many others, sneaked through the settlement when night fell and the road block was removed.

Earlier, Mr Cady posted about his plans: "Rollin 40 wheels deep wedge bound gonna be a dope night."

Mr Dorloff replied: "best wanna be rollin ankles wen ya get out n blame the sand."

Witnesses told The West Australian that the party started innocently but as the night progressed, tensions rose.

James Dorloff. Picture: Facebook/Johnny Cady


One man said he saw two men throwing punches and others quickly joining in before being broken up by other partygoers at least an hour before midnight.

At 1.30am, Mr Dorloff is believed to have become involved in an argument, which ended when he was badly hurt.

Several Samaritans frantically tried to stem Mr Dorloff's bleeding and keep him conscious.

Their desperate efforts continued for at least an hour before paramedics arrived but by then it was too late.

Evidence of the party was strewn along the plain yesterday as forensic police attempted to shield the crime scene from the elements.

The Wedge Island Protection Association (WIPA) issued a statement saying anti-social behaviour in the area had increased since the opening of Indian Ocean Drive three years ago due to ease of access by two-wheel-drive vehicles, social media and a lack of sufficient resources to control anti-social behaviour.

WIPA said the incident happened outside the settlement and did not involve shack occupants.

The group said it would continue to offer input to local authorities to better manage the risks associated with gatherings near the Wedge Island area and anti-social behaviour.

Tributes to Mr Dorloff flowed on Facebook as friends struggled to cope with the news.

The 20-year-old's sister Becky paid tribute to her brother.

"The best big brother ever," she said. "Love you to the moon and stars and back."

Mr Dorloff's friend Jayden Mcgregor Bell had also been at Wedge in recent days.

He posted: "Rip bro, why should a life be taken like that."

Harley Goddard could not believe what had happened.

He wrote: "James, another good person taken way too soon; so much for this being a good year, already lost a good mate."

Seann Healy said: "It's a f... up world we live in ... Way too young.

"Heart goes out to your family. Rest easy young blood, forever in the hearts of everyone that knew you."

Karlie Freestone wrote: "RIP gorgeous boy karma will get the ones who did this to you xxx."

Acting Police Commissioner Steve Brown said vision filmed by partygoers of the fight and the aftermath might prove vital in the investigation into what happened on the beach.

"We are aware that a number of witnesses to the scene took footage on their mobile phones and by other means and we are very keen to make contact with those people, for them to ring into Crime Stoppers and identify themselves to us," he said.

Anyone with information should call Crime on 1800 333 000.