Early today I received this text from my former producer at 4BC Brisbane Aaron O'Brien.
I will never forget Puneet Puneet. Fugitive, bail-jumper, fraudster and unrepentant killer.
In October 2008 driving on a Learner's Permit with a BAC of .165 at an estimated 150KPH in a 60 zone he did this.
19 year old Gold Coast nursing student Dean Hofstee and a group of mates were walking back to the hotel. Coming at them at racing speed was blind-drunk L-Plater Puneet Puneet's white Commodore; it beat them to the lobby. The car hurtled straight through Dean and his mate Clancy Coker. Dean didn't stand a chance.
IN the early hours of the next morning a surgical team was fighting hard just to keep Clancy alive - his horrific injuries would have to wait while they focussed on keeping his heart going. A Gold Coast police crew who'd drawn the short straw were tentatively knocking on Pete and Fran Hofstee's door, secretly hoping that no one was home. At the Melbourne Morgue the night shift staff were doing their best to minimise the shock to Dean's family when the curtain was drawn back in the formal process of identifying Dean's body for the Coroner. And a Herald Sun reporter was waiting outside the Watch House when a freshly processed and unrepentant 19 year old Puneet Puneet was bailed.
Puneet seemed unaware of, or unconcerned by, the consequences of his actions that ended the life of a young visitor from the Gold Coast and severely affected the life of the other.
Puneet blamed sore eyes and a cat for the crash, rather than being drunk and driving at three times the speed limit.
"My eyes were sore and they were closed and when they opened a cat came on to the road and I lost control,'' Puneet said.
Dean was a gentle giant from a great family. He was in Melbourne to compete in the Australian University Games with his water polo team from Queensland. He'd been partying with friends that night and was returning to his hotel when Puneet killed him.
After his funeral at the Gold Coast's Trinity Anglican Mission, 100 board riders paddled out from Dean's local Burleigh Heads beach to lay floral wreaths in his memory while family and friends looked on.
Meanwhile Puneet was working every angle and taking every opportunity to avail himself of the legal and other support afforded him after the crash. He was charged and bailed, spending no time in jail. In January 2009 he appeared again, stringing the system along to delay entering a plea.
In February 2009 while on bail Puneet took on a job. He met and befriended fellow Indian student visa holder Sukhcharanjit Singh while selling mobile phone plans door-to-door.
In May 2009 Puneet formally entered a plea of guilty on the charge of culpable driving causing Dean's death. He was again bailed awaiting sentence on the condition that he surrender his passport, not approach a place of international departure and report to police five times a week. The plea of guilty appears to have been a tactical move, it's now clear Puneet had no intention of facing justice.
Mobile phone records showed Singh and Puneet communicating heavily after the guilty plea with 50+ daily phone/text messages leading up to 1 June 2009 when all communications ceased.
On 1 June 2009 Puneet used Singh's details to purchase a return ticket to Delhi over the phone. Three days later he had the cheek to get a refund on the return leg, converting the ticket to one way.
A 3rd Indian student visa holder made a statement to police that "everyone knew Puneet was about to leave Australia". The student said that Puneet had purchased Singh's passport for $3,000.
A couple of days before Friday, 12 June 2009 Puneet's friends in the know held a "going away party" to farewell Puneet. The mood was jubilant.
On Friday 12 June 2009 Puneet reported to police. A short time later he was recorded filling in a Passenger Departure Card using Singh's details. He presented Singh's passport to immigration officials at Tullamarine International Terminal and was cleared to leave Australia. Three hours after walking out of the police station he was wheels up on a flight bound for New Delhi.
Nothing happened when Puneet failed to report on bail the next week. Nor the next. Police only made tentative enquiries of Puneet's friends as to his location in those critical early days.
Meanwhile Dean Hofstee's dad Pete and family were well advanced in plans to travel to Melbourne for Puneet's sentencing hearing. It was only days before the hearing that they were told that Puneet had absconded.
On 20 August 2009, the day Puneet was due to be sentenced, Sukhcharanjit Singh was arrested and charged with providing a false passport to Puneet.
On Friday 21 August 2009 I went to work to present radio 4BC's drive program in Brisbane. I couldn't believe what I was hearing that day out of Melbourne. Dean was a much loved local and that's the beauty of local radio, everyone who listens or presents feels they are a part of that local family.
I prepared an editorial listing some of the questions I wanted answered for our listeners. My producer, Aaron O'Brien and I both felt very personally involved with this story for reasons that will become clear. I posted that written editorial to my 4BC blog here:
Getting away with manslaughter
Posted by: Michael Smith | 21 August, 2009 - 12:42 PM
19 year old Queenslander Dean Hofstee was killed in October last year.
He was hit on City Road Southbank when a 19 year old Indian cookery student here on a student visa Puneet Puneet lost control of the car he was driving.
That’s putting it kindly. Puneet ploughed into Dean and another bloke. Police say he was driving at 150 km/h in a 60 zone. He blew .165% BAC. He had no drivers licence, just a learner’s permit.
He was charged with culpable driving causing death. He pleaded guilty. Here on a student visa, with no ties to this country, he was given bail in February.
Why was he given bail at all? He pleaded guilty to having caused the death of a man. Culpable driving.
So mistake one, he got bail.
Puneet’s bail required that he report to police five days a week. He stopped reporting in June. Nothing was done. He was up to appear for a final hearing yesterday. And he didn’t front.
What was done about chasing him up in June when he took off? Apparently nothing.
There’s been a big development yesterday in Melbourne.
Another man has been charged with giving a passport to Puneet.
The Melbourne man has been arrested and appeared in court today charged with the Commonwealth offence under the foreign passports and law enforcements act with giving a travel document to another reckless in the knowledge of how it will be used.
He’s in front of the court today.
The Aussie bloke who was killed, Dean Hofstee won’t be coming back. His dad peter went to Melbourne for today’s hearing.
How did a foreign student with no ties to this country get bail in the first place after pleading guilty to killing some one?
How was he able to leave the country?
Why didn’t police take action the minute he failed to report on bail?
Do we take this seriously?
Dean’s mum has told this radio network that prosecutors say the costs to find and extradite Puneet would be “astronomical”. What value then do we put on her son Dean’s life?
Puneet must be found and brought back to face justice.
As I was delivering that editorial live on air, I could see Aaron through the glass in the producer's desk outside my studio. He was waving and had the "I've got something important you need to know right now" look all radio presenters and producers recognise instantly.
Aaron pointed to the computer screen, I looked down and saw what he'd written - "Dean's mum is on the phone and wants to talk to you".
This is a recording of Fran and me talking that day, including the faltering tail end of the editorial as I took in Aaron's message and thought about what to say to a mum who's lost her boy and been told that the man who did it went to the airport and flew home scott-free. I think we were both in shock.
Aaron and I vowed we'd do all we could for Dean's family to help them get justice. I think of them often and say a little prayer for them whenever I do. God bless you Fran and all the Hofstees.
Melbourne's Herald Sun hasn't forgotten either. Today the paper's Lucie Morris-Marr brings us this stomach-churning news.
As Aaron said, HE can't put HIS family through the pain of coming back to face justice. No remorse on the night, no remorse when he bought his mate's passport, no remorse on the plane, nor while evading authorities in India for years, nor now when his lawyers find a helpful Indian magistrate to let him out on bail again.
Julie Bishop should do what Rudd, Carr and governments of all hues have been unable to do since June 2009. Get this killer back before an Australian court to pay his debt to Australia.
It's the least we owe Fran Hofstee and Dean's family.
Rest in Peace Dean - and know that many of us won't rest until your killer pays for what he did.