Originally published in The Canberra Times (January 7 2017)
Family and friends have paid tribute to a Queensland man who died after falling off the back of a ute at the Summernats car festival in Canberra.
Luke Newsome, 30, died in the Canberra Hospital on Friday afternoon after an incident about 4pm Thursday on the cruise route at Exhibition Park, where hundreds had gathered for the first day of the festival.
Mr Newsome is being remembered as a “top bloke” and a loving friend and partner who cared deeply about his family.
The death is the first in the event’s 29-year history.
Friend Nathan Reeks told Fairfax Media Mr Newsome had a “heart of gold”.
“He was a great bloke,” Mr Reeks said. “He will be truly missed…[We] had the same interest in utes and stuff so got along well.”
With police investigations underway, friends and family have taken to Facebook to pay tribute to the Emerald man.
“Today I lost my soul mate, my best friend and the love of my life,” partner Caity Lye said. “We had so much life to live together but your beautiful soul was unfortunately needed elsewhere.”
Speaking to the media on Saturday, festival co-owner Andy Lopez said Summernats first aid staff were the first to render assistance to the man before paramedics arrived.
“The Summernats team were saddened and distressed by the news,” Mr Lopez said.
“We offer our deepest condolences to the family.”
He said festival organisers had sent through a message of condolence to the family but had yet to speak to them directly.
Organisers sent out directions to security on Thursday afternoon instructing them to stop people riding on the back of utes.
That changed to a blanket ban on Friday after discussions with police.
“People have been sitting in the back of utilities at Summernats for 30 years and riding around in the slow, controlled conditions on the cruise route,” Mr Lopez said.
“What happened in this instance will be a matter for further police investigation.”
On Friday, organisers said they weren’t aware of the seriousness of the incident until that afternoon, when the death was reported.
Mr Lopez said Summernats’ safety management was “second to none”, but said the organisation would work with any recommendations from the police, coroner or government.
“We work very closely with all manner of agencies to ensure our event is safe, we have ambulance onsite 24 hours, we have a fantastically professional security team,” he said.
“Our safety record is really strong, but that’s a cold comfort to the family today.”
Police would not confirm the identity of the man on Saturday morning but said they had spoken to the family. A report would be prepared for the coroner.
An ACT Policing spokeswoman said no charges had yet been laid.
The Summernats festival has not been without incident since it kicked off in 1987.
In 2006, four people were injured when a ute performing in a stunt show crashed through the perimeter fence and in 2000, a security guard was hit on the left leg by a car.
Reports of antisocial behaviour and sexual harassment have also marred the event.
However, in recent years police on patrol had made minimal arrests and praised the behaviour of the majority of the festival’s crowds.
The event’s founder and former promoter, Chic Henry, told Fairfax Media he was devastated by the death on Friday.
“I’m extremely sad for the guy, and for everyone,” he said.
He said he hoped the tragedy would not stop everyone from “having a good time” at the festival.
The event is running as scheduled on Saturday. Organisers said a memorial had not yet been planned.
In a Facebook post on Saturday afternoon, the family said they would not be speaking to the media at this time.
“We are asking that our privacy and Luke’s is respected,” the post read.
Police said they would be out in force Saturday night as Summernats continued to “ensure driver and pedestrian safety”.