The families of five children who died in a horrific crash have revealed their heartbreaking grief and anger towards the man who “stole” their children’s lives with his “reckless and stupid” actions.
Tyrell Edwards, 20, appeared in Campbelltown District Court on Tuesday after pleading guilty to five counts of aggravated dangerous driving occasioning death at a speed more than 45km/h over the limit.
He was driving at more than 57km/h over the speed limit along a rural road in Buxton on September 6, 2022 when he crashed into a tree and his five teenage passengers died.
Lily Van de Putte, 14, Summer Williams, 14, Gabriella McLennan, 15, and Tyrese Bechard, 15, were all forcibly ejected from the car and found some distance away.
Antonio Desisto, 16, was hanging upside down in the passenger seat after being trapped by his seat belt.
More than a year on from the deadly collision, devastated families and friends filled the courtroom as they waited to learn the fate of their children’s driver.
Lily’s mother Melanie Van De Putte told the court she could not express “the insurmountable pain I feel every day” at the loss of her only child.
She cried as she said she didn’t understand why her daughter’s life had been cut so tragically short when the deadly collision “could have been avoided very easily”.
“The grief of losing her will be a life sentence for me for a crime I didn’t commit,” Ms Van De Putte sobbed.
Lily’s sister Brittany became emotional as she addressed Edwards directly about his “stupid decision”.
“My sister’s life was in your hands. She trusted you, we trusted you,” she said.
“You had control and you took advantage of that.”
She emphasised Edwards had been the adult in a dangerous situation with five children, but he had failed to be responsible.
Lily’s aunts both wiped away tears as they explained that the “spunky” 14-year-old was “stolen away from us too early” and they struggled every day with accepting her untimely death.
“It still hurts just as much today as the day Lily died,” Lily’s aunt and godmother Amanda Osbourne said.
Lily’s father John Van De Putte wore a T-shirt with the slogan ‘Think of the Five, stay alive’ in a nod to the road safety campaign founded in honour of the Buxton children.
“I cannot stop thinking about why as an adult you would be so reckless, so flippant about the road riles. There is no excuse, he told Edwards during his emotional statement.
“I trusted you to keep her safe. You, as the adult, did not.”
Mr Van De Putte said he struggled with feeling hatred towards the P-plate driver since the crash and felt conflicted about his sentence.
“No matter what you get, it will not bring back the five lives,” he said.
“My heart will always be heavy.”
Gabriella’s mother Samantha McLennan broke down as she told the crowded courtroom her family was “shattered” they would never get to see her daughter’s “beautiful smile” again.
“You stole five lives and you were the adult, you should have known better,” she said.
“You took her life too soon.”
The grieving mother told Edwards he had “devastated” the lives of her family because he was “wanting to show off and speed”.
“Our lives are changed forever and will never be the same,” Ms McLennan said through tears.
“Maybe I could think of forgiveness if you showed some remorse or empathy, but you haven’t. Not even a sorry.”
She told the 20-year-old she had “never had so much hate and anger towards one person” as she did for him and his lack of remorse.
“I hope every night before you close your eyes, you remember that night and those five beautiful lives,” Ms McLennan said.
“You took them from their families and this world and the whole future they had ahead of them.”
Gabriella was remembered as “the heart and soul of the family” by her grandparents, who said the “reckless and stupid actions” of Edwards left them with inexpressible pain and a “moment that will haunt us forever”.
“We are left with questions that may never be answered and wounds that may never heal,” a statement from her grandparents said.
The court heard Antonio would have turned 18 years old this week, but instead his mother is struggling to cope with the “incredible void” his death has left in her life.
“Words cannot adequately describe the depths of my grief,” Belinda Desisto said.
“I will never have the opportunity to see him grow up.”
The Desisto family all wore T-shirts in honour of Antonio, who was 16 years old when he died in the crash.
His father Exaven Desisto also had his son’s name tattooed on his head as a permanent tribute to his “best friend” and “love of my life”.
“I lost my son to a careless and avoidable act of stupidity,” he told the court.
“Parents shouldn’t have to bury their child.”
The mourning father shared the heart-wrenching last words he shared with his son on the night of the crash.
“I told him to tell the driver to drive safe and he said: ‘Of course dad, you know me, I love my life’,” he sobbed.
The 16-year-old was meant to be dropped home within an hour, but instead Mr Desisto got a call about a fatal crash on Buxton’s main road.
He revealed he still texts his son’s phone number every day in the vain hope he will receive a reply.
Mr Desisto broke down as he told the court he would be singing happy birthday to his son who is now in an urn, instead of having his whole life ahead of him.
He said he is “literally broken” and “full of guilt, pain and agony” at the loss of his “kind, caring boy with the heart of a giant”.
“Regardless of the outcome, I have the life sentence here,” he said while wiping away tears.
“The offender should … be the one with the life sentence.”
His daughter Angela, Antonio’s sister, told Edwards he had “messed up my life” and every day was a struggle for their family, who would never be the same after losing Antonio.
Despite the terrible impact of the crash on her family, she said she hoped the P-plate driver would be able to move forward.
“To the man who took my brother’s life, I forgive you,” she said while crying.
“I hope one day you can learn to eventually forgive yourself.”
Antonio’s grandmother Marilyn said the loss of the “humble, loving” boy left the family in “unending torment” and a “living nightmare”.
“Tyrell had one job to do that night and that was to drop our boy Antonio home safely. He failed to do that,” she said through tears.
Summer’s aunt Donna Boyd similarly blamed Edwards for destroying their family and said they would never forgive him for the loss of their “beautiful girl”.
“She was 14 years old and thanks to you, she will forever remain 14 years old,” she told the P-plate driver.
“The only mistake she made in her whole life was trusting you to be the driver of that car.”
Ms Boyd said losing her 14-year-old niece was “the worst pain that we’ve all ever experienced in our lives” and she was praying for justice for Edwards.
“You killed five kids and you destroyed so many lives along the way, including your own and your family’s,” Ms Boyd said.
“I hope one day you realise what you’ve taken away from each and every one of us on that day.”
Summer’s brother Lincoln told Edwards he would never be “forgotten or forgiven” for taking his baby sister from her family and robbing her of her dreams.
“You are the one who was driving, you are the one who killed her,” he said.
His sister Gemma mourned the loss of her “lifelong best friend” who had a life full of countless dreams and ambitions ahead of her.
“Summer’s absence has left a void that will never be filled,” she said after breaking down in tears.
“I think about her everyday and I will continue to do so for the rest of my life.”
Their older brother Clayton called for Edwards to receive the maximum sentence for the “senseless act” of driving recklessly with an illegal number of passengers.
Their mother Lisa said she would never recover from the loss of her “source of joy, love and purpose” who had lived only 5251 days before her “senseless death”.
“The consequences of the defendant’s actions have forever altered my existence,” she said.
“It is incomprehensible to me that my daughter, who had so much to give, was taken away from me while the defendant still has the privilege of living.”
The family of the final victim, Tyrese Bechard, elected to submit written victim impact statements rather than reading their statements in court. He was 15 years old when he died.
According to the agreed facts, Edwards was driving his mother’s Nissan Navara along East Parade in Buxton shortly before 8pm when he lost control of the car.
The car had only four seatbelts but five passengers were illegally crammed inside as the P-plater reached speeds of 117 km/h along the 60 km/h road.
He had collected Tyrese and Antonio in the afternoon and they’d gone for a joy ride around the rural area, reaching speeds of up to 147 km/h.
Edwards used his mobile phone to film himself swerving across the road and was heard in a Snapchat video saying: “We are going 160 (km/h) the whole way.”
The then-18-year-old was doing 117 km/hr along the rural road when he lost control of the car just before 8pm.
The Nissan Navara veered onto the wrong side of the road and smashed into a tree before bouncing off into another tree.
The violent impact ripped the cabin apart and forcefully ejected Tyrese, Gabriella, Summer and Lily.
All four were found a short distance from the wreckage while Antonio was trapped upside down by his seatbelt.
Edwards sustained minor injuries and was the sole survivor of the horrific crash.
Nearby residents reported hearing a “massive explosion” and frantically called triple-0.
The P-plate driver was heard yelling “get me out of here, I can’t stay in here” while he was trapped in the cabin.
He managed to free himself by pushing out the windscreen and climbing out.
“I’m gonna go to jail, I can’t go to jail, I don’t want to go to jail,” the 20-year-old told witnesses at the scene. On Tuesday, the court heard his prophecy would be realised when he is inevitably sentenced to jail for the fatal crash.
In a letter to the court, Edwards said he recognised no sentence imposed by the court would be adequate to assuage the pain felt by the victim’s families.
“I know serving a sentence won’t be good enough for the damage that has been done,” he wrote.
“I am so sorry for the pain and loss I have caused to all the families.”
“I can’t put into words my pain for the loss of my friends, and I can’t imagine the enormity (of) pain of the families.”
However, the 20-year-old recognised his apology “won’t change anything” and would “not bring comfort to all those affected” by the fatal collision last year.
He told Judge Christopher O’Brien it was “unfair” that he survived the crash and he wished he “could take it all back”.
The P-plate driver acknowledged there were “too many people in the car” and “there was speed involved” when he smashed into the tree in Buxton.
“I know I must face up to what happened and my responsibility for the accident,” he wrote.
He said he was unable to read his statement aloud in court because of “the heaviness of my feelings of pain and guilt”.
The 20-year-old bowed his head and maintained a blank expression, although he wavered during the heartbreaking evidence of the victim’s families.
According to court documents, the P-plate driver had been suspended from driving twice before the fatal crash.