A coroner has found that a teenager from North Queensland would not have died if car keys in youth housing facilities had been better protected.
Most important points:
- Bailey Pini died a year after his mother and a month after he was taken to state care
- He died after stealing a nighttime officer’s car and driving 2.5 hours to his hometown
- Coroner Nerida Wilson found that a locker could have prevented his death
Bailey Pini was 13 years old when he stole the overnight officer’s car and drove two and a half hours to his hometown in Bowen, where his mother had been buried almost exactly a year earlier.
He crashed into a tree on the morning of June 9, 2020, rolling the car and crushing himself and his passenger upside down.
Both were rendered unconscious.
Flames shot from the hood of the car as bystanders pulled Bailey’s passenger from the wreckage, but when they went to pick up Bailey it was too late.
The inquest into his death learned the fire was “unsurvivable” and Bailey died at the scene.
Coroner Nerida Wilson gave her findings today at Cairns Courthouse.
The inquest examined security and oversight at the healthcare facility and whether the decision to place Bailey in the Sarina facility was justified.
The inquest heard from attorneys Anthony Collins, who represented the nonprofit, Karen Carmody of the Department of Children, Youth Justice and Multicultural Affairs, and counsel assisting John Aberdeen.
‘Dismissed’ and ‘expelled’
Bailey was placed in state care a month before his death.
Neither his next of kin nor his foster carers were able to offer him shelter.
“At the time of his death, Bailey was suffering profound trauma from the death of his primary caregiver, the rejection of his surviving parent and displacement,” said Magistrate Wilson.
She said that after Bailey’s mother died, his father “disowned him, evicted him” and placed him with a friend over the Easter holidays.
Despite the Sarina care facility being 150 miles from Bailey’s community, Magistrate Wilson said she believed Bailey’s placement in the facility was appropriate.
Magistrate Wilson said she was aware that there were no licensed healthcare services in Bowen, as well as staffing and housing issues.
She said talks were held with his family prior to his placement, but no kinship options were identified.
“In retrospect, given the geographic distance from his home base in Bowen and the possible occasion for the first anniversary of his mother’s death, I have considered that provision should and could have been made … to transport him to Bowen to to visit his sister, grandmother or family,” said Magistrate Wilson.
Lock and key
The overnight officer whose car was stolen suffered an aneurysm the year after Bailey’s death and gave no evidence at the inquest.
The inquest learned that the woman in her 60s had left her keys in a tray in the office, which was locked and reinforced with Crimsafe screens.
Bailey and his passenger broke into the office by punching a hole in the wall, but they weren’t the first in the house to try to steal keys.
Magistrate Wilson said it was foreseeable that the youths would try again.
“The policy should be revised to require the installation in vulnerable residential facilities of a small safe, a key safe, fixed to the floor or wall,” she said.
Magistrate Wilson said it would be wise to mount alarms on the safes.
“The [facility] is a registered charity and [has] an increasing responsibility,” she said.
“It is not a realistic option to convert offices in residential facilities into fortresses.
‘The last bastion’
The inquest found that the boys living with Bailey had become “troublesome” and that before his death, the staff had held meetings about how best to interact with them.
It was also heard that night shift workers worked alone most of the time.
Magistrate Wilson said she admired the behavior of the officer who tried to deal with the “out of control” teenagers the night before Bailey’s death.
“The overwhelming feeling is that a mature lady of 63 years old was expected to manage the situation, albeit with the right education and experience.
Magistrate Wilson said it would be ideal to have funding available for cases where an additional carer was needed in an emergency, but the staffing did not contribute to Bailey’s death.
She said if the lock boxes were put in place, no additional staff would be needed.
But in her conclusion, Magistrate Wilson said funding arrangements between the facility and the Department of Children, Youth Justice and Multicultural Affairs should be reviewed.
“It should not be the case that the system is stretched so far that a 63-year-old woman becomes the last bastion between the residents and the car keys, which in this case were the cause of the collision,” she said.
While this investigation only examined the conditions at the Sarina home, the coroner said the findings would be relevant to similar facilities in the state.