Record of Investigation Into Death (Without Inquest)
Corners Act 1995
Coroners Rules 2006
I, Michael Brett Coroner, having investigated the death of
Trevor Darren Matthew Donnelly
I Find That:
(a) The identity of the deceased is Trevor Darren Matthew Donnelly;
(b) Mr Donnelly was born on the 31 July 1972 at Launceston in Tasmania;
(c) Mr Donnelly died between the 21 April 2012 and the 22 April 2012 aboard the vessel ‘Time Out’ which was moored at the time at the Seaport Marina at Launceston in Tasmania;
(d) The cause of Mr Donnelly’s death was drowning; and
(e) No other person contributed to the cause of Mr Donnelly’s death.
Circumstances Surrounding the Death:
At the time of his death, Mr Donnelly lived with his fiancee, Ms Harrington at their home in Launceston. He was employed on a full-time basis has a car rental representative by a local car hire firm.
On the night before his death, Mr Donnelly and Ms Harrington had argued. They had both consumed a considerable amount of alcohol. Mr Donnelly spent the night away from the house aboard a houseboat, the vessel Time Out, which was owned by the partner of Mr Donnelly’s sister, Roxanne Donnelly. Ms Donnelly and her partner were residing on that vessel at that time.
The following morning, Mr Donnelly returned to his home. He arrived there too late to travel with Ms Harrington and her daughter to soccer. According to Ms Harrington, he was upset about them leaving without him. He apparantly displayed some sentiment about this when he travelled to the soccer ground later in the morning, but did not meet up with Ms Harrington at this time. At about 11am, Mr Donnelly arrived at the home of a friend, Jeremy Hall. Mr Hall and Mr Donnelly spent the day together watching motor sport on television. Mr Donnelly consumed a number of bottles of beer during the day, estimated by Mr Hall to be approximately 5 stubbies over a period of five hours. During that time, Mr Donnelly attempted on several occasions to contact Ms Harrington, but she did not respond. At about 4pm, he telephoned Ms Harrington. Her evidence is that he sounded angry and drunk. She told him not to come home.
At about 8 pm, after consuming pizza for dinner, Mr Donnelly returned to his home. Mr Hall’s opinion was that Mr Donnelly seemed affected by the alcohol he had consumed, but was not as drunk as he seemed but was very tired. He was upset about the state of his relationship with Ms Harrington, and insisted on leaving, despite Mr Hall’s offer that he could stay the night there.
Ms Harrington saw him for the first time that day, when she returned to their home from a hotel where she been playing Keno. Mr Donnelly was, according to Ms Harrington, angry and making accusations against her. Her opinion was that Mr Donnelly was very drunk, he was staggering and falling over, looked a mess and his clothing was dirty. They argued. Ms Harrington contacted Roxanne Donnelly and requested permission for Mr Donnelly to stay aboard Time Out again that night. Ms Donnelly agreed, although she and her partner would be staying away from Time Out that night. Mr Donnelly would be there by himself. Ms Harrington drove Mr Donnelly to the Marina and let him out. Mr Donnelly had taken a sixpack of beer with him. Roxanne Donnelly had made arrangements for the occupant of a boat moored near Time Out, Brenda Massey, to let Mr Donnelly through the security gate at the Marina so that he could access the vessel.
Mrs Massey’s evidence is that she let Mr Donnelly in through the gate at about 8:15 pm. Mrs Massey formed the opinion that Mr Donnelly appeared to have been drinking as his speech was very deliberate and he veered from side to side as he walked along the pontoon.
Roxanne Donnelly says that she spoke to Mr Donnelly when he was being let in through the gate. At that time, she did not think he sounded drunk or depressed, but was relieved to be on his own and sounded flat and exhausted.
Ms Harrington last heard from Mr Donnelly at about 8:30 pm when he sent a message saying that he was stuck upstairs and couldn’t get down. This is an apparent reference to the fact that the lower area of the vessel was locked, but Roxanne Donnelly was satisfied that everything Mr Donnelly needed for the night was available on the top deck, which was accessible. Ms Harrington ignored this message from Mr Donnelly.
There is no evidence that Mr Donnelly was seen or heard alive again.
At about 5:30 am on 22 April, Richard Massey, Brenda Massey’s husband, awoke to hear a beeping alarm sound. At 8:20 am, he investigated this sound and found that it was coming from Time Out. It was coming from a smoke alarm aboard the vessel, apparently activated by heat and steam. He accessed the top deck of the boat, and saw a male floating on his back spreadeagled in the spa bath there. Police and ambulance were called and attended. They found Mr Donnelly floating in the spa bath on his back and unclothed. He was deceased.
Police conducted a thorough examination of the vessel. They found nothing suspicious. The six beer cans that Mr Donnelly brought aboard the night before can be seen in photographs in various locations around the deck of the vessel. Some have clearly been consumed.
An autopsy was conducted. The pathologist who conducted that examination states the cause of death as drowning under the influence of alcohol. He considers that the presence of a lung infection amounting to bronchopneumonia would have facilitated respiratory compromise due to drowning.
I am satisfied that Mr Donnelly drowned in the spa bath. It is impossible to determine the precise circumstances that led to this. Clearly, he was affected by alcohol. A toxicology report is consistent with the evidence which describes him as having consumed a considerable amount of alcohol during the day. That testing confirmed that alcohol was present in his blood in the concentration of 0.109 g/100ml. In addition to the effect of his alcohol consumption, he was reportedly extremely tired and in a depressed emotional state. He was also apparently suffering from a lung infection. I am not satisfied that his death resulted from any deliberate action on his part. I think that it is far more likely that the combined effect of the above circumstances, the alcohol consumption, emotional upset, tiredness and illness, caused him to fall asleep or rendered him unconscious whilst in the spa bath, and he drowned in that state.
I am satisfied that no other person was present on the boat that night, and no other person contributed to Mr Donnelly’s death.
Comments and Recommendations:
I have decided not to hold an inquest in this matter. In my opinion, no further information of significance or relevance to the issues which I am required to determine will be elicited by an inquest.
There is no need for me to make any recommendation.
I take this opportunity of conveying my sincere condolences to Mr Donnelly’s fiance and family.
The matter is now concluded.
Dated: The 31 May 2013 at Devonport in the state of Tasmania.