Force shattered after Fwy crash kills four police officers
Four police officers have been killed in an Eastern Freeway smash that Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton on Wednesday night called "a crime".
Two constables and two senior constables were hit from behind by a refrigerated truck while standing in the emergency lane after they had pulled over the driver of a Porsche for speeding.
It was the single deadliest incident in Victoria Police's history, eclipsing Ned Kelly's killing of three officers in 1878.
Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton said two male constables, one female senior constable and one male senior constable were killed in the line of duty.
He said police were still "piecing together" what led to the accident but it was believed officers had intercepted a Porsche that was driving at "excessive speed" at 5.40pm.
Mr Ashton said it was understood the officers were out of their police cars when hit by the truck.
"The truck has also made considerable contact with the Porsche," he said.
An eyewitness who saw the aftermath of the crash said it was a "horrific" scene.
"It was carnage," the eyewitness said.
Mr Ashton said that the driver of the Porsche fled the scene and remained on the run.
He said the truck driver had been taken to hospital after suffering a medical episode.
He said it was not clear whether the truck driver had the episode before or after the crash.
"It (the truck) has driven into the Porsche and slammed into the police officers as part of the collision," he said.
Mr Ashton made a personal appeal to the driver of the Porsche.
He said if driver was watching his press conference: "I strongly suggest that he get himself down to the nearest police station".
The truck driver is under police guard in hospital. He will be interviewed when able.
Homicide squad detectives and major collision officers were called to the scene.
"We don't know at this stage what has caused him to drive that truck into our police members," Mr Ashton said.
"This is a real tragedy," he said, before adding: "It can sometimes seem mundane and then can suddenly seem very, very tragic."
Approximately seven passersby including an off-duty doctor and off-duty paramedic were among the first on the scene to render help.
Mr Ashton said it was a "tragic night" for Victoria Police.
"It's a tragic night for the officers' families, it's a tragic night for the police family more generally. It's a sad night for all Victorians.
"Our best understanding at the moment is that at about 5.40pm two members doing road policing duties have intercepted a 911 Porsche, which had been travelling at excessive speed on the inbound lanes of the Eastern Freeway."
The Porsche was stopped in the left emergency lane.
"As part of doing that they have made inquiries with the occupant and as a result they've taken a decision to impound the vehicle based on the inquiries they were making. They've requested support from two other highway patrol officers who have then attended the scene in support.
All four officers were out of their vehicles talking with the driver of the Porsche.
Mr Ashton said a "large refrigerated truck" then drove into the four police officers.
"The truck's also made considerable contact with the Porsche.
"The driver of the Porsche we don't believe is injured but has taken it upon himself to flee the scene on foot."
"The driver of the truck has, for medical reasons, been taken to hospital for medical tests. It's not believed he suffered injuries in the accident but has had some sort of medical episode at the scene."
Mr Ashton said the truck driver would remain under police guard.
"When it's possible for him to be interviewed he will be interviewed."
"We don't know at this stage what has caused him to drive that truck into our police members. We're still forming that up in terms of why that has occurred."
"I believe this is the largest single loss of life in terms of police lives lost in one incident in the history of Victoria Police"
He did not detail ages of the deceased but said one of the officers had joined the force "very recently".
"The others were a little more seasoned and experienced."
"As police commissioner I'm deeply saddened by the events of tonight. It's a tragic night for Victoria Police. All the officers down here, I can tell you there's an eerie quiet down there that sometimes you don't see at crime scenes. Everyone down there is feeling it at the moment. Everyone understands what a tragedy this is for the families of those officers and for the whole force. They're all feeling that deeply."
Police Association Victoria secretary Wayne Gatt said: "The Police Association Victoria is shocked and immensely saddened by the deaths of four of our dedicated members, who were killed while protecting the community on the Eastern Freeway this afternoon.
"We are providing immediate and ongoing support to the colleagues and families of those members.
"This is a brutally sad reminder of the danger police face in the course of their service, every minute of every shift.
"We mourn their loss, we grieve with their families and colleagues and we will never forget them."
He said the deaths would "shock police in stations across Victoria".
"These police officers were doing something that we do 10 times, 20 times, 30 times a shift - intercepting a motor vehicle on the side of the road.
"This is the bread and butter of policing," he told reporters.
"This isn't stuff that you go to do and expect to be killed doing. But each and every time a police officer does that for the next little while, they'll have this in the back of their minds, there's no doubt."
Premier Daniel Andrews described the officers as heroes.
"Tonight, four police officers lost their lives in the line of duty. And tonight, somewhere in our city, four families' hearts are breaking. Our hearts are breaking with them," he said.
"We grieve alongside them - just as we grieve with every member of Victoria Police and every member of our emergency services family.
"In the coming days, formal investigations will tell us why - how - this could possibly have happened.
"But one thing is already clear: Though we may not yet know their names, we will always call them heroes."
Opposition leader Michael O'Brien, in a joint statement with Shadow Minister for Police, David Southwick, described the incident as an "unimaginable tragedy".
"This unimaginable tragedy is a stark reminder of the grave risks the members of Victoria Police face every day," he said.
"Our thoughts, our prayers and our deepest sympathies are with the officers' families, friends and colleagues."
The state's police minister said that information is still being collected on the tragedy.
"We have seen tonight on the Eastern Freeway an unimaginable tragedy" Lisa Neville said in a statement.
"I have been briefed on the incident tonight by Victoria Police and details are still coming to hand.
"We know that four police officers have been killed in the line of duty.
"Four police officers killed while doing their job and keeping us all safe.
"I am thinking of the entire Victoria Police family who are going through a deeply distressing time right now.
"My thoughts and prayers are with the family, friends and loved ones of those who have been taken from us far too soon.
"Policing is difficult and challenging work and we are reminded yet again of the bravery of all of our police officers in keeping Victorians safe.
"The Victorian government grieves with you and we are thinking of you."
Prime Minister Scott Morrison described the deaths as heartbreaking.
"Awful, heartbreaking news that four police officers have been killed while on duty in Melbourne tonight," Mr Morrison tweeted.
"My deepest sympathies go out to their families, fellow officers and friends at this terrible time."
Oppoisition Leader Anthony Albanese echoed the Prime Minister's sentiments.
"Heartbreaking news out of Victoria. These officers were killed while doing their jobs - a terrible reminder of the risks taken by police and emergency workers every single day," he tweeted.
"My deepest condolences to their families, friends and everyone at Victoria Police."
A police source said the four officers were with the Traffic Management Unit.
It is understood the officers were speaking with the Porsche driver at the side of the freeway when the truck ploughed into the vehicles.
An eyewitness told the Herald Sun the truck was travelling in a 100km/h zone when it hit two parked police cars.
Key to the investigation will be why the truck was being driven in an area where police felt they were safe enough to make the intercept and speak with the Porsche driver.
Investigators are seeking witnesses, including motorists who saw the crash and anyone who saw the truck travelling before the fatal impact.
Asked why homicide squad detectives were at the scene, Mr Ashton said: "Those officers concerned (killed) have been a victim of a crime."
He said specialised police officers from the major collision unit were also assisting.
Traffic conditions have been the lightest in many years in Melbourne, making the accident all the more hard to understand.
The police cars involved are understood to be one marked highway patrol vehicle and one unmarked highway patrol vehicle.
They were both in the breakdown lane on the Eastern Freeway, inbound, at Kew.
The truck driver is understood to be aged in his late 30s or early 40s.
He was pulled out of his truck cabin at the scene by a passerby.
All inbound lanes were closed as police investigated the tragedy.
Multiple police officers dead in horrific crash in Kew. Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton has arrived on scene and will address media shortly. Press conference will be live on @theheraldsun Facebook page https://t.co/n6puIPit8v pic.twitter.com/Ca0MX0WtRu— Josh Fagan (@faganjosh) April 22, 2020
All inbound lanes were closed between Bulleen Rd and the Chandler Highway.
Police also blocked outbound lanes at the Chandler Highway.
Outbound traffic exited at the Chandler Highway and detoured through Alphington and Ivanhoe to the north, or through Kew to the south.
Citybound traffic was diverted towards Doncaster Rd through Balwyn North.
JUST IN: Nasty crash involving a semitrailer and cars on Eastern Fwy near Chandler Highway , a police car also caught up.— Simon Love (@SimoLove) April 22, 2020
Pics from Traffic Reporter Jess Miller who says it’s “one of the worst scenes she’s seen in a while” @GettrafficVIC @10NewsFirstMelb pic.twitter.com/Y993iUjmuS
Bayswater MP and former police officer, Jackson Taylor, described the news as "devastating".
"My thoughts and love go out to the families of those involved, to the entire Victoria Police and emergency services family," he tweeted.
Bentleigh MP Nick Staikos added: "Such devastation unfolding on the Eastern Freeway tonight. Grieving for our police. Another reminder that our emergency services workers put everything on the line to serve the community."
MULTIPLE POLICE FATALITIES IN VICTORIA INCLUDE:
THREE police killed by Ned Kelly at Stringybark Creek - Oct 26, 1878
TWO constables killed in car accident - Dec 8, 1911
TWO officers ambushed and shot - Oct 12, 1988
TWO officers, Gary Silk and Rodney Miller, shot while investigating armed robberies - August 19, 1998
TWO police killed in car crash - May 20, 2000
FOUR officers killed by truck on Eastern Freeway April 22, 2020
Originally published as Force shattered after Eastern Fwy crash kills four police officers