Man spared jail over death after booze-fuelled brawl

·2-min read

Fuelled by booze and looking for a fight, Zachary Steven Pedlar had a few words for a man after punching him in the head.

"I don't care. He f***ing deserved it," he said, as father-of-four Greg Mitchem lay unconscious outside a Victorian country pub.

Earlier that evening, on October 20, 2017, Mr Mitchem had been laughing, joking and singing along to a band at Eildon Holiday Resort where he was staying with his wife.

Pedlar, then aged 18, had been drinking at home and visited the pub to sink schooners with his parents, brother and uncle.

His uncle was told to leave by the resort's owner after grabbing a man's groin on the dancefloor. The owner dragged Pedlar's uncle outside by his neck.

Pedlar, Mr Mitchem and some others patrons decided to get involved and followed the two men outside.

The owner, angry and holding a pool cue, was ordering everyone to leave the venue when Pedlar confronted Mr Mitchem and said he wanted to fight.

Pedlar started throwing punches, while the owner got in the resort's bus and drove through the car park and hit Mr Mitchem and another patron.

Mr Mitchem got up and Pedlar started walking home, when another man came running towards Pedlar and hit him.

Pedlar fell, got up, ran over to Mr Mitchem and punched him in the head and he fell to the ground, unconscious.

He could not be revived by emergency services and died at the scene.

An autopsy found Mr Mitchem had died of complications from a blunt head injury while intoxicated by alcohol. But pathologists could not rule out that his collapse was caused by a heart attack.

Pedlar was arrested 20 months later, in June 2019, and charged with manslaughter.

His early court hearings were delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pedlar was due to face trial in March, but prosecutors accepted the 23-year-old's guilty plea to affray just before it began.

He appeared by video link in the Supreme Court on Friday, where he avoided a jail sentence and was handed an 18-month community corrections order.

Justice Elizabeth Hollingworth said drunken fights between groups of men were too common and could have profound and enduring consequences.

"People can end up dead or seriously injured, families can be devastated, lives can be ruined," she said.

Judge Hollingworth said the five-year delay in finalising the case had added to the distress of Mr Mitchem's loved ones, who blamed Pedlar for his death.

But she said Pedlar could not be sentenced for causing his death because medical evidence could not exclude a heart attack. She also took into account his lack of criminal history, age and the case's delay.

Pedlar must perform 100 hours of unpaid community work and attend treatment for alcohol and drug abuse.