Benjamin O’Brien was in the process of falling himself when he collided with Carly Crane at a house party in Gwynneville last winter, causing her to fall onto a boiling hot metal fire pit, a court has heard.
Ms Crane told Wollongong Local Court on Thursday that O’Brien had approached her from her right side as she stood next to the backyard fire and deliberately grabbed her in a bear hug, causing them both to fall into the fire.
“I felt my weight lift off my feet...[I was] being lifted slightly in the air,” she said.
“All I can remember then is falling back into the fire with him on top of me.”
However, two male witnesses to the incident gave a different account of what occurred while testifying in court on Friday, claiming they saw O’Brien make an involuntary stumble moments before he and Ms Crane connected and that he had simply caught Ms Crane as he fell.
“I was standing in front of the fire, Carly was on my left,” party-goer Brendan Murphy told the court.
“I heard the clanging of bottles on the ground and saw someone fall over, which was Bob [O’Brien]....he’s got her [Carly] around the waist and the momentum forced them both into the fire.”
“He was falling over with his arms out. He was trying to grab out for something and he caught Carly around the waist.
“It was pretty quick as you can imagine when someone’s falling over. He wasn’t falling gracefully.”
Meantime, fellow party-goer James Wilson also formed the opinion O’Brien had accidentally fallen into Ms Crane.
He said he was sitting on a couch behind the fire at the time and saw Ms Crane land in front of him.
When asked if it was possible O’Brien had moved towards Ms Crane “of his own volition” in the moments before the pair fell, Ms Wilson replied “that’s not what it looked like to me. I’m fairly certain he was falling”.
Both Mr Murphy and Mr Wilson assisted in pulling Ms Crane off the metal pit and helping her walk into the house.
She was immediately taken to Wollongong Hospital with severe burns to her buttocks and legs.
She was late transferred to the burns unit at Concord Hospital, where she remained for 3.5 weeks.
Meantime, police charged O’Brien with reckless grievous bodily harm, alleging the 26-year-old’s action in grabbing Ms Crane in the bear hug-style manoeuvre in close proximity to the fire was reckless.
O’Brien pleaded not guilty to the charge.
After hearing submissions from prosecution and defence lawyers on Friday afternoon, Magistrate Susan McGowan adjourned the case to September 1 for judgement.