HEARTBREAKING LOSS: Grace Ruhle died on April 2, after she fell from the back of a ute in Springvale. Picture: Facebook
HEARTBREAKING LOSS: Grace Ruhle died on April 2, after she fell from the back of a ute in Springvale. Picture: Facebook

Devastating final moments of woman killed in ute fall

"You have to help Gracie...you have to help Gracie."

Those were the harrowing cries of 19-year-old Hunter John Stojczan that rang out on Springvale Road on the evening of April 2, as he held the body of his friend Grace Ruhle, wrapped in his shirt.

Surrounded by his friends and family, they could only watch on in horror as the 23-year-old Linthorpe woman lay on the ground, not breathing, before she died on the side of the road.

Dozens of supporters lined the public gallery of Dalby Magistrates Court on Tuesday May 4, to hear the heartbreaking final moments and death of the young woman, when she fell from the vehicle Stojczan was driving.

Donning a blue suit with a short haircut, Stojczan pleaded guilty to failing to provide a specimen of breath for analysis, and driving a vehicle where a passenger must not be in the part designed for the carriage of goods.

The prosecution offered no evidence to the previous charge of failing to remain at the scene, and it was struck out.

The moments leading up to Grace's death were revealed by police prosecutor sergeant Derek Brady starting at 9.40pm, when Dalby police were tasked to attend a traffic crash along Springvale Road in Springvale.

The court heard Grace was not conscious or breathing when they arrived, after she had fallen from Stojczan's utility vehicle.

Numerous friends and family paid tribute to Grace Ruhle following her passing. Picture: Facebook
Numerous friends and family paid tribute to Grace Ruhle following her passing. Picture: Facebook

They spoke with witnesses that said the defendant had been driving his car in a westerly direction with three people in the back of his ute, including Grace.

Sergeant Brady said at some point while Stojczan was driving on the road, Grace had suddenly fallen from the car, with the other passengers notifying him instantly.

Witnesses contacted triple-0, with paramedics working desperately to revive Grace, but unfortunately she was declared dead at the scene.

After conducting their investigations, they arrived at a residence nearby about 11pm, questioning Stojczan if he had been drinking since the incident.

The court heard he was showing signs of intoxication, with a breath test revealing he was 0.156.

Sergeant Brady said he was transported to the station, where Stojczan was asked a series of questions, and refused to provide answers, continuing to ask if Grace was alive.

He told the court that police continued to ask him to provide his breath, while he demanded to call his dad at the time.

Stojczan failed several times to comply with police, and was charged.

In his submissions, sergeant Brady said Stojczan was a 19-year-old P1 driver, and the nature of the driving did not contribute to the accident.

"The prosecution is not asking to hold him accountable for the deceased at this time by the nature of his driving, but for a deterrent to himself and for other members in the community," he said.

"Likewise with regards to the seriousness of how these foolish decisions can result in tragic circumstances for other people."

Grace Ruhle, 23. Picture: Facebook
Grace Ruhle, 23. Picture: Facebook

Acting in Stojczan's defence, lawyer Christopher Copley regaled the court in the Stojczan's honest background as a concreter from Cooroy.

He tendered numerous character references and referees to the court, many of those being witnesses to the incident.

The court heard 14 were from family, 13 were from friends and colleagues, one from his neighbour and congregation minister, and the final from Grace Ruhle's father.

Mr Copley said the calamitous day first began when friends and family joined together at the Ruhle family farm for the Easter holiday break.

He told the court Grace, Stojczan and friends were riding motorbikes, setting up camp at the rural property, before travelling to the creek after dinner.

The court heard some of the group's vehicles had bogged, with three people deciding to ride in the back of Stojczan's ute, including Grace.

Stojczan only drove for a short time according to Mr Copley at only 60km/h in a straight line, before disaster struck.

Mr Copley said Stojczan immediately returned to the scene after being told of Grace's fall, and found her lying on the ground.

He began holding her hand while trying to talk to her, but she was unresponsive as emergency services were called.

Mr Copley said Stojczan told one of his mates to notify the other parties, while he was on his hands and knees holding Grace.

Soon afterwards, family members and friends arrived, and performed CPR on Grace as she lay there on the ground, to no avail, the court heard.

Those in the public gallery were in tears, as Mr Copley continued to read the distressing details.

Mr Copley told the court Stojczan was frozen as more people arrived, and was taken back to the camp by one of the parties, but said he wanted to go back and check up on Grace.

Police arrived and spoke to Stojczan, who was encouraged to provide a breath sample.

Dalby Magistrates Court.
Dalby Magistrates Court.

Magistrate Tracy Mossop decided to read into the court a reference from one of the witnesses at the scene, which recounted in excruciating detail the moments after Grace's fall.

"When we arrived we quickly realised how serious it was because Gracie wasn't breathing," the statement read.

"Upon [another witness'] arrival at the scene, he very quickly saw the state of Hunter, who was totally paralysed with shock and stress, and shaking.

"He kept saying over and over 'you have to help Gracie'."

The statement said one of the witnesses wanted to take Stojczan away as they were worried for him, with the defendant giving Grace his shirt.

Mr Copley went on, and spoke of his incident at the station, where Stojczan repeatedly asked about Grace's welfare, and requested to call his dad.

He told the court he was eventually allowed to call his father, and was notified that Grace had passed away.

Stojczan's refusal to give a sample of breath was due to the extraordinary situation and the stress he was under following the accident, Mr Copley said.

In his final submissions, he told the court there was nothing to suggest Stojczan's driving was dangerous, with it ultimately being the deceased's choice to ride in the back of the ute.

Magistrate Mossop told Stojczan that two people made a decision that night that changed the course of their lives, with one life ended, and the other irreversibly affected by the tragedy.

"Many have probably travelled in the back of utes in properties in the past, but what happened to you that day should serve as a warning to anyone contemplating driving a ute on the road, with another person in the back," she said.

Dalby police responded to the accident on April 2, 2021. Picture: File
Dalby police responded to the accident on April 2, 2021. Picture: File

She cited how Stojczan was of "tremendous character" with his numerous references, acknowledging his volunteering and selfless acts.

"I accept that in this situation the victim of your decision to do the wrong thing on that night was also the decision made by a consenting adult, who decided to hop in the back of the ute, and that played an important role," she said.

"This incident really is a terrible tragedy, and as a consequence of both of your decisions on that fateful night, one of you is no longer here, and you are going to carry the consequences of that for the rest of your life."

Stojczan pleaded guilty and was fined $900 for failing to provide a specimen of breath, and disqualified from driving for nine months.

A conviction wasn't recorded.

For the second vehicle charge he was fined $1200, with a conviction recorded.

Magistrate Mossop concluded proceedings by citing the important reference from Grace's father, where he said he had no malice towards Stojczan, and feared for his mental health.

"That is a significant indication that a father has taken a very common sense approach to what has happened, and despite this tragic incident of the loss of his daughter, he supports you," she said.

"You now have to honour Mr Ruhle, and make sure you continue on the right path that you've clearly been on for many, many years."

Originally published as Devastating final moments of woman killed in ute fall

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