Man cried for help before river drowning, coroner told

A young Indigenous man was caught up in a stolen car pursuit before drowning in an attempt to evade police by crossing a river, a coroner has heard.

Robert 'Robbie' Malayta, 18, was found dead by police divers in the Ross River near the Townsville suburb of Kirwan in north Queensland at 11.48am on February 25, 2022.

During a pre-inquest conference in Brisbane on Tuesday, coroner Terry Ryan heard that Mr Malayta had fled in a stolen red Toyota Corolla driven by his older brother Shakur McLennan in the early hours of February 24.

Counsel assisting Carolyn McKeon said it was likely Mr Malayta and Mr McLennan entered the river via a jetty within three or four minutes of leaving the Toyota.

Mr McLennan later told police he saw Mr Malayta drop below the water surface then yell out "big bro, I can’t breathe" before disappearing into the darkness.

"I’m trying to swim back to him and I’m nearly going under. His last breath was like 'big bro, help'," Mr McLennan said.

Ms McKeon said Mr Malayta, Mr McLennan and a female friend Erin Barnes abandoned the Toyota and entered the Riverway Skatepark at 3.36am after the vehicle hit a police tyre deflation device.

"The officers were placed to lock the area down. No officer chased the group at any point," Ms McKeon said.

An officer posted at a school on the river's bank heard someone calling out "Robbie" or "Robert" for a few minutes after 3.42am.

Police scanned the water with their torches and searched the river bank between 4.11am and 5.51am with the aid of a police dog after reporting back that unknown suspects could have attempted to swim across the river.

Mr Malayta's family members searched the river banks at 7am and reported him missing at 5.56pm.

"Police commenced land searches of the park and river within hours of the report," Ms McKeon said.

An autopsy found Mr Malayta showed no signs of internal or external injuries, or natural disease, and his cause of death was determined to be drowning.

Ms McKeon said Mr Malayta looked up to McLennan, who was breaching parole at the time, and only joined him in the car after some convincing.

Mr Malayta's sister saw him chastising Mr McLennan for stealing $100 from their mother, Patricia McLennan.

"Patricia found a note written by Mr Malayta saying 'Mum - gone with big bro to get your money back'," Ms McKeon said.

A police ethical standards command investigation later found that the officers' actions during the early hours of February 24 2022 were justified and there was no misconduct or breach of discipline.

Mr Ryan ordered an inquest to be held on October 17 and 18 at Townsville and it would inspect the riverbank site of Mr Malayta's death.

13YARN 13 92 76

Lifeline 13 11 14

What is AAPNews?

For the first time, Australian Associated Press is delivering news straight to the consumer.

No ads. No spin. News straight-up.

Not only do you get to enjoy high-quality news delivered straight to your desktop or device, you do so in the knowledge you are supporting media diversity in Australia.

AAP Is Australia’s only independent newswire service, free from political and commercial influence, producing fact-based public interest journalism across a range of topics including politics, courts, sport, finance and entertainment.

What is AAPNews?
The Morning Wire

Wake up to AAPNews’ morning news bulletin delivered straight to your inbox or mobile device, bringing you up to speed with all that has happened overnight at home and abroad, as well as setting you up what the day has in store.

AAPNews Morning Wire
AAPNews Breaking News
Breaking News

Be the first to know when major breaking news happens.

Notifications will be sent to your device whenever a big story breaks, ensuring you are never in the dark when the talking points happen.

Focused Content

Enjoy the best of AAP’s specialised Topics in Focus. AAP has reporters dedicated to bringing you hard news and feature content across a range of specialised topics including Environment, Agriculture, Future Economies, Arts and Refugee Issues.

AAPNews Focussed Content
Subscription Plans

Choose the plan that best fits your needs. AAPNews offers two basic subscriptions, all billed monthly.

Once you sign up, you will have seven days to test out the service before being billed.

AAPNews Full Access Plan
Full Access
  • Enjoy all that AAPNews has to offer
  • Access to breaking news notifications and bulletins
  • Includes access to all AAPNews’ specialised topics
Join Now
AAPNews Student Access Plan
Student Access
  • Gain access via a verified student email account
  • Enjoy all the benefits of the ‘Full Access’ plan at a reduced rate
  • Subscription renews each month
Join Now
AAPNews Annual Access Plan
Annual Access
  • All the benefits of the 'Full Access' subscription at a discounted rate
  • Subscription automatically renews after 12 months
Join Now

AAPNews also offers enterprise deals for businesses so you can provide an AAPNews account for your team, organisation or customers. Click here to contact AAP to sign-up your business today.

Download the app
Download AAPNews on the App StoreDownload AAPNews on the Google Play Store