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“I didn’t see him”: Melissa Oates gives evidence during coronial inquest into death of Jari Wise

Callan Morse -

Warning: this story refers to a person who has died and includes details some may find distressing.

A Hobart woman who struck and killed her Indigenous partner with her car four years ago has given evidence during an inquest into his death.

Wadi Wadi and Wamba Wamba man Jari Wise died after the speeding car being driven by Melissa Oates, who was drunk at the time, struck him on Huonville's Wilmot Road in the early hours of February 29, 2020.

Ms Oates was convicted of dangerous driving, drink driving and failing to stop and assist in an accident, however no legal responsibility was attributed to her for Mr Wise's death.

Earlier this week the now 38-year-old told the Hobart Magistrate's Court she wasn't sure what she collided with when travelling at 110km/h in a 50k/h zone at nearly 3am on the night of Mr Wise's death.

"I heard a bang and like something hard had bit my car," Ms Oates told coroner Simon Cooper whilst giving evidence from a remote witness room.

"I didn't know if Jari had been along there and thrown something at my car or if it was an animal. I panicked and drove back to Jessica's and she drove me back there.

"We saw stuff on the road and we hopped out of the car and that's when we saw Jari."

The inquest had earlier heard there was no evidence Ms Oates made an attempt to brake or swerve prior to, at or after the point of impact.

Preceding the incident, the pair, who were both subjects to Police Family Violence Orders at the time, had been drinking at friend Jessica Hosking's house, with Mr Wise leaving the residence following an argument between the two.

After departing Ms Hosking's house and communicating with Mr Wise via texts and calls, Ms Oates drove her silver Toyota van along Wilmot Road in search of him, telling the court she had plans to take him home as the pair had plans together the following day.

After a photo of Ms Oates' severely damaged van was shown to the court, lawyer Fabiano Cangelos, representing Mr Wise's mother, Faith Tkalac, said if Ms Oates did not see Mr Wise before hitting him with her vehicle, "must accept" that she "could not say whether he stepped in front of the car or not".

"I don't remember, Ms Oates responded.

"It's a simple question, I'm going to ask you one more time to see whether you're willing to answer it," Mr Cangelos said, after repeating the question numerous times.

"No, I did not see Jari," Oates replied.

"I didn't see him so I couldn't say."

Referring to the substantial damage to the vehicle, Mr Cangelosi said the bang must have been "tremendous" when Ms Oates struck Mr Wise, whilst questioning why she did not stop.

"I don't know why I didn't stop the car," Ms Oates said.

Ms Oates also said she didn't remember whether the impact shook her car, whether she tried to brake or slow down.

Mr Cangelosi proposed the pair were in discussion as to where Mr Wise was shortly before the incident, suggesting Ms Oates had seen a message sent to her from him saying "please go back" moments before the crash and before she turned her vehicle around on Wilmot Road.

"You drove towards him at 110km/h knowing there was a likelihood you would strike him," Mr Cangelosi said.

"No, that's not the case at all," Ms Oates replied.

Mr Cangelosi said following the incident causing Mr Wise's death, two of Ms Hosking's neighbours signed statutory declarations saying Ms Oates had returned to her friend's house the night of the incident making comments like "look at what he's f***ing done to my car", "I hit the c***t" and "he's f***ed my car".

"I didn't say it because I didn't know that I'd hit Jari," Ms Oates replied.

"I didn't say those things."

The inquest has been adjourned until coroner Cooper hands down his findings at a later date.

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