Missing woman had ‘slim chance’ of survival
Wednesday, 5th September, 2018
By Craig Brealey
A woman who was suffering a psychotic episode when she disappeared into the bush on the city’s outskirts two years ago would not have survived long, the Coroners Court was told yesterday.
Christine Young (40) left the Broken Hill Hospital where she was being treated on April 22, 2016 and at the last reported sighting late in the day she was naked and walking just off the side of the Silverton Road.
Detective Senior Constable Danny Crowley, the officer in charge of the search, told the inquest that five days in he asked a doctor what the odds were of Ms Young being alive in the desert in the cold with no food, clothes or shelter.
The doctor put them at 10 per cent, DSC Crowley said, but reckoned that the Broken Hill-born Aboriginal woman had already died.
The detective was the first witness called to the inquiry into the circumstances of Ms Young’s disappearance and which is being held before coroner Teresa O’Sullivan.
Counsel Assisting the Coroner, Peggy Dwyer, opened proceedings and outlined the case.
“This is not about apportioning blame but to get a full and frank account of what happened,” Ms Dwyer said.
She said that for much of Ms Young’s adult life she had mental health problems and suffered episodes of schizophrenia.
Ms Dwyer said that on April 21 a lawyer from the local Aboriginal Legal Service was driving back from Wilcannia when he saw her walking along the road and gave her a lift.
The court would hear that Mr Saunders thought she seemed quite normal, she said, and at her request he dropped her off at a friend’s place in Wolfram Street.
But much later, about 11pm, police received reports that a woman was at the airport wearing nothing but underwear and appeared “very scared.”
Police noted bruises on her shoulders and other injuries for which she gave no explanation. They took her to hospital where she did not consent to being examined by a doctor and would not say if she had been attacked by someone.
DSC Danny Crowley was called to the hospital about 1am and noted that Ms Young appeared “paranoid” and told him that people and police were “coming to get me”.
She said she had not been sexually assaulted and told him she had a doctor’s appointment the next day.
A doctor at the hospital determined that Ms Young could not be detained under the Mental Health Act because she did not pose a risk to herself or others.
She was discharged and DSC Crowley arranged for her to stay at the Salvation Army’s women’s shelter.
“I thought she seemed glad to be in there,” he said.
But sometime during the early hours she left the shelter and about 8.30am police, after receiving reports, found her on Holten Drive in “poor health” and unable to speak. They took her to hospital where she was physically examined, medical tests ordered, and detained in the mental health wing as a paranoid-schizophrenic.
A calmative was given but she remained agitated and phoned a friend to bring her cigarettes. A nurse noticed that she was sitting close to the door and asked some student nurses to watch it because she was worried someone might come in and leave it open.
But then a nurse came in through the main door and Ms Young pushed past her and set off quickly down the corridor. Her friend, who had arrived with the cigarettes, saw her but she would not stop and got out through the hospital’s Thomas Street exit.
He followed her up the street but she started running towards her home about 800 metres away. However, she continued past it and turned right into Brookfield Avenue where several people saw her wearing an orange traffic cone on her head and carrying an armful of weeds and flowers.
Two of the witnesses called police and also went looking for her. One saw her naked with the cone still on her head and the last reported sighting was at the corner of Brown Street by which time she had discarded the cone and it was getting dark.
Police searched through the night until 10.30pm and began again early the next morning. They found her clothes, underwear, shoes and socks and tracks heading east in a creek off the Silverton road near the quandong farm.
Police and volunteers continued to search until the end of the month on foot, motorbikes, four-wheel drives, light aircraft and helicopters.
DSC Crowley told the inquest that a naked person would be very hard to see in the scrub and Ms Young might not have wanted to be found.
“The terrain out there, you could walk past someone and not see them,” he said.
“Unfortunately, she might have hidden from us, given her state of mind.”
In June, DSC Crowley called in a sniffer dog and handler, and in October he went out again himself on a trail bike.
Ms Bailey told the inquest that Ms Young’s bank account had not been used since she disappeared. None of her “loving family” had heard from her, and she was never known to miss her children’s birthdays, she said.
Four days have been set down for the inquest.