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ABC News
court reporter Danny Tran

Manslaughter charges dropped against trucking company boss Simiona Tuteru over Eastern Freeway tragedy

Manslaughter charges have been unexpectedly dropped against the boss of a truck driver who killed four police officers when he struck them with his vehicle on a Melbourne freeway.

Simiona Tuteru was due to face a trial in the Supreme Court of Victoria, where he was fighting four manslaughter charges over the deadly collision on the Eastern Freeway in 2020, but during a brief hearing today, those charges were discontinued.

Investigators had charged the 51-year-old after one of his drivers, Mohinder Singh, ploughed his truck into the police officers who had pulled a man over on the Eastern Freeway.

Singh — who was jailed for 18 years and six months — was severely sleep deprived and drug affected on the day of the crash, and police allege that Mr Tuteru should have stopped him from driving.

Mr Tuteru vigorously maintains his innocence.

Large fines, prison time still possible 

Today's decision is a significant win for Mr Tuteru, who will still have to face a Supreme Court trial on four charges of breaching heavy vehicle national laws, but he will face a lighter penalty if found guilty.

Manslaughter carries a maximum sentence of 25 years behind bars but the Heavy Vehicle National Law breaches that Mr Tuteru now faces carry a fine of $354,870 or five years in prison, or both.

The charges being dropped, without explanation, prompted blistering comments from Justice Lex Lasry.

Justice Lasry: "Is the court and the public to be favoured with an explanation as to how this has occurred?"

Crown prosecutor Robyn Harper: "I don't propose to go into the reasons why, your honour."

Justice Lasry: "I take it that … the Crown have finally worked out they don't have a case, is that right?"

Crown prosecutor Robyn Harper: "I wouldn't say that's right, your honour, but I'm instructed to enter the discontinuance."

Justice Lasry: "For this to have occurred in this way … I think is unsatisfactory."

David Hallowes SC, who is defending Mr Tuteru, said he was "disappointed" at how long it took prosecutors to drop the charges.

"We have always had a view as to the weaknesses in the case of manslaughter," Mr Hallowes said.

"Fundamentally, the case hasn't changed from when Mr Tuteru was first charged and, as Your Honour indicates, there's been not only a great deal of time, but a great deal of effort put in to preparing the case."

The Office of Public Prosecutions has confirmed that the charges were dropped but declined to comment as matters were still before the Supreme Court.

A spokeswoman for Victoria Police said the force had been notified that the charges were withdrawn.

Truck driver had sentence reduced through Court of Appeal

Today's development comes as Singh — who must serve at least 14 years and six months before he can apply for parole — had his sentenced reduced, after swearing he would take the stand against his former boss.

Earlier this year, the Court of Appeal reduced Singh's sentence by three-and-a-half years after he promised to give evidence against Mr Tuteru.

In April 2020, Singh veered into Leading Senior Constable Lynette Taylor, First Constable Glen Humphris, Senior Constable Kevin King and Constable Josh Prestney as they were standing in an emergency lane of the Eastern Freeway.

The officers had just pulled over Melbourne man Richard Pusey for driving his Porsche at 149 kilometres per hour.

In the moments after the crash, Singh was heard wailing: "Oh no, oh no."

The crash was the single greatest loss of life in Victoria Police's history.

It was later uncovered that Singh was seriously sleep deprived and only had five hours of rest in the three days before the collision.

He was also a prolific ice user, a habit that had made him actively psychotic at the time, causing him to see witches and believe in aliens.

A new trial date for Mr Tuteru has not been set but he is due to appear in court again in December.

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