A 15-year-old mute and deaf boy with severe autism has escaped jail after driving toward terrified pedestrians outside Flinders Street Station on grand final day last year.
The Children’s Court on Wednesday heard how the Knoxfield teen had the language skills of a three- to five-year-old child and would not have understood the impact of his actions when he stole his father’s car and went on a rampage through Melbourne’s CBD dressed in combat gear.
He was given a criminal record and a 12-month probation order after he pleaded guilty to six charges, including reckless conduct endangering life for the September 30 incident which saw him Tasered by police.
The boy, the youngest of three children to Cambodian refugee parents, lacked significant family support before the attack and isolated himself both at home and school, the court heard.
The children’s court judge said the teenager, who cannot be named for legal reasons, posed a low risk to the community.
“The consequences of your driving could have been catastrophic,” she warned him. “Fortunately they were not.”
The court heard how victims had been left with anxiety and were unable to work or return to the city after the boy nearly ran them over as he drove erratically through the CBD.
It’s believed he stole his father’s car out of frustration when he was denied a mobile phone.
A medical assessment after the rampage found he was on the autism spectrum and required “substantial support”.
Unsupervised computer use and driving motor vehicles are both banned under his probation order.
Since the incident the teen has been assigned a disability support worker, Auslan tutor and has significantly improved relationships with his classmates.
A lawyer for the teenager told the court how media coverage of the event included many of his identifying characteristics and had led to him being identified by members of his school. She called it “a poisoned well” when asking the media to show restraint in their reporting.