No illegal substances recovered from New Year's Day crash, court hears

Traffic expert unable to establish the velocity of the car at the time of the incident due to conflicting reports on road surface

A court expert has confirmed that pills recovered from the scene of a road accident that claimed the life of a young law student last January did not contain any illegal substances.

Forensic expert Godwin Sammut was testifying in the compilation of evidence against Terence Tanti, who stands accused of the involuntary homicide of 22-year-old law student Matthew Meilak and driving while under the influence of alcohol.

He also stands accused of causing serious injury to another passenger, dangerous driving and causing damage to an electricity pole.

The tragic road accident in which Meilak lost his life happened at around 3:45am on the 1 January in Rabat Road, Nadur, Gozo, while Meilak and four of his friends were on their way back from a private party held at a Nadur farmhouse.

Meilak suffered severe head injuries after being ejected from the car on impact and died at the scene.

This morning the Magistrate Audrey Demicoli heard another passenger in the fated vehicle, Edward Cole, recount his recollection of events to the court.

Cole had also attended the themed New Year’s eve party in Nadur with his friends. He said that he did not remember the drive, other than sitting in the middle, at the back of the car. “All I remember is the moment of impact,” said Cole. He was drinking whisky, but was not sure what his friends had drunk.

Most of the questions the witness was asked revolved around the road surface and whether it had been raining or not at the time. “It was raining throughout the night, but I do not remember whether it had stopped at the time of the accident,” Cole replied.

The court was told that, on impact, one wheel was detached from the vehicle, which eventually came to a stop 41 metres from the initial point of impact.

“I remember the first impact on my right side and the second one on my left and the next thing I know I was out of the car. I saw Matt go out of the car, and then ambulances and other people started to arrive.”

The magistrate asked him why he could not remember what happened. “The night was a blur,” said Cole. He remembered other passengers drinking, but made no mention of Tanti, the driver.

Alex Scerri Herrera, who was in the front passenger seat in the car, testified that there was a stream of rainwater coming from the passenger side of the road. “It cambers towards the inside lane,” he explained.

“As we arrived on the downward incline, I felt an impact under the car, either a pothole or a badly filled pothole, before it began to skid...the first impact was on driver’s side, followed by another two.”

A couple of minutes later a car with his friends arrived, on their way to the flat. He said that he didn’t want to be left alone there and got in the car with them.

One of the passengers in that car was a first aider, who opted to stay and attempt to stabilise the casualties as best he could, before the ambulance arrived. He changed out of the costume he had been wearing and was taken to the Gozo general hospital where he was treated for shock. “I was trembling,” he said.

Asked by the prosecution at approximately what speed the car was travelling, the witness could not answer with certainty, but he didn’t feel it was excessive. “We weren’t driving fast, I get anxious when I’m a passenger in speeding vehicles, but that day I wasn’t scared."

Traffic expert Mario Buttigieg was also unable to establish the exact velocity of the car. “I could not determine the exact velocity as I had received conflicting accounts on whether the road surface was wet or not.”

What he could establish was that the car was in fourth gear when it lost control, hitting a wall, then rebounding into an electricity pole and back into the wall, skidding for a further 41m before coming to rest.

Inspector Bernard Spiteri led the prosecution, while lawyer Joe Giglio appeared for Tanti. Scerri Herrera was assisted by lawyer Veronique Dalli. Lawyer Kenneth Grima assisted Cole. Lawyer Errol Cutajar appeared in parte civile for Meilak.

The case continues on 16 April.

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