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“No evidence” drunk, speeding partner of Indigenous man mowed him down deliberately, inquest finds

Callan Morse -

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

A coroner has found there is no evidence a woman who hit and killed an Indigenous man with her car while drunk and speeding did so deliberately.

26-year-old Wadi Wadi and Wamba Wamba man Jari Wise died after being stuck by a vehicle driven by his on-again, off-again partner Melissa Oates in Huonville, south of Hobart in February 2020.

A four-year legal battle followed, with Tasmania’s then attorney-general, Elise Archer overturning a Supreme Court decision last year, ordering a coronial inquest into Mr Wise’s death after years of public and legal campaigning from his mother, Faith Tkalac.

In handing down his findings on Monday, Coroner Simon Cooper dismissed claims from Ms Oates, her friend and her cousin that Mr Wise jumped in front of the car that killed him.

“There is a complete absence of any reliable evidence that supports a conclusion that Mr Wise jumped into her path,” Mr Coper said.

However, Mr Cooper however also ruled there was insufficient evidence to hold Ms Oates responsible for his death.

“There is no evidence that supports a conclusion Ms Oates deliberately ran Mr Wise over,” Mr Cooper found, an impact he said led to Mr Wise sustaining “massive unsurvivable injuries” after Ms Oates struck him with her Toyota Estima mini-van on Wilmot Road in the early hours of February 29, 2020.

On the night of Mr Wise’s death, Ms Oates’ blood alcohol limit was three times above the legal limit and she was speeding at 110km/h in a 50km/h zone when she struck and killed him.

Justice for Jari supporters outside the Hobart Magistrates Court. (Image: Ethan James/AAP)

She was sentenced in 2021 to 14 months’ jail with six suspended, after pleading guilty to dangerous driving, yet no criminal responsibility was attributed to her for Mr Wise’s death.

"She was plainly very intoxicated. She should never have been driving," Mr Cooper said, while noting my Oates’ driving was also impaired because she was not wearing glasses, a condition of her licence.

He said the inquest outcome did not change his initial conclusion, saying he was satisfied Mr Wise, who was wearing dark clothing, was standing in the lane Ms Oates was driving.

Speaking to media outside the Hobart Magistrates Court, Ms Tkalac described mixed feelings following inquest.

"(The coroner) said 'yes, Jari didn't jump in front of Melissa's car'. That's what I wanted," she said.

"That’s what I wanted to hear and I’m content with that.”

Ms Tkalac said she would seek legal advice before considering potential future actions.

“I feel I have to push again,” she said.

“It’s not the end. It’s just kind of lifted up into the air again.

“I’m going to have a sit-down with a lawyer, and do a lot more reading and a lot more research, and start all over again.”

Jari Wise, pictured with his mother, had a volatile relationship with Melissa Oates. (Images: AAP)

The inquest heard Mr Wise and Ms Oates had been in a “volatile” relationship.

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

After departing the house and communicating with Mr Wise via texts and calls, Ms Oates drove along Huonville’s Wilmot Road in search of him, previously telling the court she intended to take him home as the pair had plans together the following day.

However Mr Cooper didn’t believe Ms Oates’ claims that she didn’t know she’d hit Mr Wise, and said instead she’d returned to her friends and told them she had “hit the c..t”.

Ms Oates has never been charged with causing Mr Wise’s death and has always denied the allegations.

Ms Tkalac said she would continue to campaign for “Jari’s law”, legislation which passed in Tasmania’s lower house late last year which requires coroners to examine deaths where family violence contributed.

The legislation is yet to be passed into law.

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