Christopher Browne, a Melbourne judge who accidentally killed his child while making donuts on a quad, will not serve time in prison. On Christmas Day 2020, Browne rode bikes with his two-year-old son Lincoln on his farm in Barnawartha North near the NSW border.
Living with the death of a child “is a punishment which no court can impose,” Victorian County Court Judge Michael Cahill said in his ruling. He explained that Christopher Browne, 32, was instead being evaluated for a community corrections order.
Lincoln Browne, Browne’s two-year-old son, was crushed to death when the buggy overturned during a small family brunch, and Browne pleaded guilty to dangerous driving charges resulting in death. The father admitted to having up to three drinks over the Christmas dinner, but tests showed he was sober when the crash happened.
According to court records, Browne drove the buggy while carrying his son on his lap and using his right arm. He had planned to drive everyone around.
The documents state that after completing many donuts in a paddock next to the family home, Browne was completing his last one when the buggy’s wheels hit the grass and started it rolling.
When the buggy hit the ground, according to Browne’s brother-in-law, Michael Hart, Lincoln was “on top”. The ATV’s roll bars, a safety feature designed to prevent the vehicle from crushing its passengers, instead ejected Lincoln from the carriage and crushed him. When Browne made his final donut attempt in the ATV, the vehicle rolled due to its abrupt turn.
Lincoln’s mother, Stacey Browne, and another relative attempted to resuscitate her son on the spot. During the hearing, both sat next to their husbands.
Reports from a psychologist and a family doctor showed how badly the incident affected the 32-year-old. According to Cahill, both evaluations concluded that Browne had “severe” PTSD symptoms as a result of the incident. “Sometimes the duty of his wife and[remaining]child is the only thing that keeps him going,” Browne’s attorney, Tom Danos, told the court.
Danos asserted that the couple would suffer “serious consequences” and the workforce would “suffer” if Browne was unable to continue the family business.
Michael Cahill, the judge, stated that Browne would not be imprisoned.
The judge stated, “I have come to the conclusion that, in the totality of the circumstances of this case, Mr. Browne should be granted a common corrective order.” Living with the loss of one’s child is, according to the author, a punishment that no court can impose could.
Judge Cahill understood that Browne deeply regretted what had happened and that imprisonment would only aggravate his already precarious mental state. His eligibility for a Community Corrective Order is now being determined, which prosecutors described as “very rare” in this particular case.
Given that the order is actually being issued in lieu of imprisonment, prosecutor Erin Ramsay suggested it should be accompanied by a large amount of unpaid community service.