Committal set for driver accused of fatal pub crash

Federal Minister for Infrastructure Catherine King speaks to mourners at a vigil at Victoria Park in Daylesford, Victoria, Monday, 6 November, 2023. Picture: AAP IMAGE/JAMES ROSS

by Tara Cosoleto, AAP

A driver accused of crashing into a Victorian pub beer garden, killing five people, will return to court in September for a committal hearing.

A six-day committal hearing has been set down for a driver accused of killing five patrons at a central Victorian beer garden and also involved Cockatoo locals.

William Swale, 67, allegedly mounted the kerb in his SUV and hit several people seated on the front lawn of the Royal Daylesford Hotel on November 5, 2023.

Pratibha Sharma, 44, her daughter Anvi, 9, and partner Jatin Kumar, 30, and their friend Vivek Bhatia, 38, and his son Vihaan, 11, were all killed.

The incident involved residents from Cockatoo, with a baby who was 11 months old at the time. The 38-year-old Cockatoo man and a 43-year-old Kyneton woman were flown to the Royal Melbourne Hospital, while the baby boy who was with the pair was taken by road to Ballarat Base Hospital before being transferred to the Royal Children’s Hospital.

All three were in stable condition as of Monday 6 November, 2023 and the baby’s mother, a 34-year-old woman from Cockatoo, was not injured.

Police allege Swale, who was diagnosed with diabetes in 1994, ignored nine alerts from his blood glucose monitoring device in the lead-up to the Daylesford crash.

The 67-year-old was charged with 14 offences, including culpable driving causing death and negligently causing serious injury.

Swale appeared via video link at Ballarat Magistrates Court on Thursday afternoon, where a six-day committal hearing was set down for September.

Magistrate Michelle Mykytowycz initially questioned why there was such a long delay, noting the significance of the case and the clear public interest.

She said the Ballarat court could accommodate a committal hearing starting in July.

But both the prosecution and defence confirmed September 16 was the earliest all 13 witnesses would be available to give evidence at the same time.

The witnesses include at least four experts, including a digital forensics specialist.

Ms Mykytowycz allowed the delay but extended it to a six-day hearing instead of the requested three days, saying it was important the committal ended in September.

The magistrate also extended Swale’s bail to the committal hearing date.

The 67-year-old remained quiet throughout Thursday’s brief hearing, only thanking the magistrate at the end for extending his bail.

Swale was released on bail in December 2023 after posting a $250,000 surety to the court.