No conviction for Sunwater after little girl drowns at weir

Debbie Koefer with her daughter Amy Koefer who lost her daughter Nelani when a temporary dam wall burst near Blackwater in 2008. Photo: Chris Ison / The Morning Bulletin
Debbie Koefer with her daughter Amy Koefer who lost her daughter Nelani when a temporary dam wall burst near Blackwater in 2008. Photo: Chris Ison / The Morning Bulletin Chris Ison

Update 10.10am:  ETCHED on Amy Koefer's leg is a painful memory of her "red-headed princess" who was swept from her arms.

It's a portrait tattoo of her young daughter, Nelani, 5, who tragically drowned in November, 2008 when Bedford Weir in Blackwater, about 200km west of Rockhampton, collapsed and released thousands of megalitres of water.

The torrential current from the released water swept young Nelani out of her mother's arms.

But the pain Amy endured from the prodding tattoo needles, two months after the tragic event, was nothing compared to the hurt she suffered yesterday when a Rockhampton magistrate did not record a conviction against the company that owned the Bedford Weir.

"Nelani (pictured) was full of character and life ... she always made you laugh," mum Amy said.

Nelani Koefer
Nelani Koefer Photo supplied

The family said: "While we are pleased this case has finally had an outcome, we are not happy that a conviction wasn't recorded because this is their (SunWater's) third offence."

Magistrate Tom Bradshaw presided over yesterday's case.

Crown Prosecutor Michael Byrne told the court the Koefer family was in an area below the weir on the day the inflatable dam deflated and released an "unplanned" amount of water into the Koefers' path.

Amy told The Morning Bulletin after the court proceedings yesterday she and her family were about 150m from the inflatable dam.

Mr Byrne said the particulars of the case against SunWater Limited had changed before the courts because Trelleborg Engineered Systems Australia Pty Ltd, which manufactured the failed bladder, had already been fined $80,000 earlier this year for the fault.

Trelleborg Pty Ltd was fined for failing to discharge its workplace health and safety obligations but no conviction was recorded.

Mr Byrne said the case against SunWater relied on the fact that there was inadequate signage where the Koefer family were using the MacKenzie River near the weir.

He admitted there was signage in and around the weir - advising members of the public of the risks of being in the area - but there weren't any signs near where the Koefer family was on the day.

The court heard SunWater in the past had been before the courts on two other matters - one where an employee contracted by SunWater had drowned - but on both occasions a conviction was not recorded.

Defence lawyer for SunWater Ralph Devlin said over the past seven years the company had tirelessly invested about $500,000 in public safety campaigns around water dams and weirs it owned.

In relation to signage in and around the area, the court heard SunWater was unable to erect signs before Nelani's death because the Central Highlands District Council failed to match its funding for proposed signs.

Mr Devlyn said that fact wasn't designed to shift the blame onto the council but to vindicate its reason partly for not having signs put up in the area.

SunWater was fined $80,000 and a conviction wasn't recorded.

The family awaits a coronial inquest and have decided to go ahead with a civil court claim.

Friday 3.30pm: THE Koefer family from Blackwater say they haven't been given the closure they need following a Rockhampton Magistrate's decision not to record a conviction against Sunwater Ltd.

The family is reeling from the death of Nelani Koefer, 5, who drowned in November 2008 after a rubber damn at Bedford Weir, near Blackwater, deflated and released thousands of megalitres of water into the area where Nelani and her family were swimming.

The company was fined $80,000 in the Rockhampton Magistrates Court this afternoon for failing to provide adequate signage in the area where Nelani's family were swimming.

Read tomorrow's Morning Bulletin for the full story.

Topics:  drowning rockhampton magistrates court sunwater

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