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A young man named Edward Robert William Spark found himself caught in a torrent behind a tree on the 10th of January 2011, the day of the terrible floods that swept Donna and Jordan Rice away from the arms of their loving family, and into a watery grave.
The tree saved Spark from a similar tragic fate. He clung to it for an hour as the water raged around him, before being saved by the brave men and women of the Queensland Emergency services.
Spark says that he became stranded in the floodwaters while attempting to rescue the stricken driver of a car that had been washed away. There is considerable doubt about whether his claim is true, and not only because there was no driver in the car he claimed to be saving one from, and that it was empty.
His story would be just a small another in the myriad of personal tales about the events of that awful day in Toowoomba that claimed the lives of Donna and Jordan Rice, but for one thing.
The tree that he clung to was directly outside the Grand Central Shopping Centre.
And a man named Steve Gollschewski was inside.
Only a month before, on the 13th of December 2010, Gollschewski had been promoted to the role of Assistant Commissioner of the Queensland Police Service.
In a strange twist of fate that would have tragic consequences, Gollschewski’s promotion to the senior role had been announced on the the same day that a Senior Constable named John Wheeler landed a kick to the ribs of a defenceless Aboriginal teenager who while in police custody had been restrained in handcuffs and ordered to the ground, thus setting in train a series of events that led to Wheeler answering and then disregarding Donna Rice’s triple O call for help to the Toowoomba Police Communications Centre on the day that the new Assistant Commissioner visited the Grand Central Shopping Centre; the day that she and her son Jordan died.
Although no-one could have known it at the time, the two men’s futures would from that day become entwined.
Upon his appointment as Assistant Commissioner Gollschewski, a career police officer of 30 years experience who had assiduously worked his way through the senior management ranks of the force, had been placed in command of policing the Southern Region of Queensland, an area that ran from Beaudesert in the east, all the way north to Winton, where the Banjo wrote Waltzing Matilda, and south to the NSW border where it ran west across to the junction where Queensland and the top end of South Australia met.
In his new role the now Toowoomba-based Gollschewski also assumed overall responsibility for the six District Disaster Committees that were formed and operating in the Southern region led by senior officers under his command, meaning that when the heavy rains moved across South-East Queensland in the days after his elevation to the job Gollcheswski was the man in charge.
For three weeks prior to the 10th of January he had been attending daily disaster meetings with the upper echelons of the police force that were chaired by then Deputy Commissioner (now Commissioner) Ian Stewart, a during this Gollscheswki had been criss-crossing the region coordinating disaster preparation and operations as his uniformed men and women planned for dealing the worst of all manner of calamities that Mother Nature might wreak.
This was a man who knew better than anyone in South-East Queensland that disasters could strike in an instant, and understood that in periods of extreme weather events like the protracted rainfall being experienced across his region at the time – events that had triggered the declaration of disaster zones in a number of areas in the preceding weeks – vigilance and a readiness to act immediately were essential if disaster operations were to be performed effectively.
Yet here he was in the food court of a Toowoomba shopping mall during a freak storm, less than half an hour before Donna and Jordan Rice lost their lives.
And until now no-one has questioned why.
Gollschewski has stated in sworn police statements and in evidence given to the Flood Commission of Inquiry that at 1.00 pm on 10 January 2011 he left the command desk of the Regional Police Headquarters at 52 Neil Street Toowoomba, entered his police issue vehicle and drove directly to the Grand Central Shopping Centre for the dual purpose of collecting a mobile phone and to buy his lunch.
The shopping complex is located on the corner of Margaret and Dent Streets in the city, 750 meters from police headquarters The journey usually takes 5-10 minutes depending on the driver’s luck with the traffic lights.
The Assistant Police Commissioner’s sworn evidence is that he had checked the BOM weather radar regularly on the day of 10 January 2011, and that the cloud formation that the radar was showing ‘apparently moving towards the Toowoomba area’ indicated that only moderate rainfall was expected.
This is demonstrably untrue.
At 12.12 pm on 10 January 2011 – 48 minutes prior to the time Gollscheswki states that he left his Command post to travel to pick up a mobile phone and buy his lunch – it is clear that the Bureau of Meteorology radar was showing that a heavy rain storm was about to descend on the city of Toowoomba.
In the police statement that he made on the 10th of March 2011 – which oddly the Assistant Commissioner both gave and took himself; usually a police officer takes a statement from a witness – Gollschewski swears that as he was driving to the shopping centre it was raining steadily, but that the rainfall was unremarkable.
When he arrived at the Grand Central Shopping Centre the Assistant Commissioner says that he drove his police vehicle into the car park entrance and parked on one of the upper levels. There are only three levels. It is not known whether he parked on the 2nd or 3rd, but when he stepped out of his police car Gollschewski was approached by a woman who was concerned about the safety of three ‘kids’ that she had observed swimming in West Creek, which runs along the Dent Street side of the shopping centre.
After listening to the concerns of the woman – who has never been identified and has not made a police statement – Gollschewski says that he walked to the edge of the car park and observed the trio in the creek, which he noticed was at that stage well within its banks. Nevertheless, due to concerns he held that the creek level would rise in the continuing (by his reckoning only steady) rainfall, he telephoned the Acting Superintendent, a man named Andrew Morrow, and asked him to send a crew to attend to the scene and remove the three young people before they ‘got into trouble’.
The three ‘kids’ were Edward Spark and a pair of his unidentified friends, the latter two of whom have never made a police statement.
Although neither Spark nor Gollschewski could have known it at that moment, the man in the creek’s evidence regarding these events – particularly his recollection of the timing of his movements on the day – would soon become of intense interest and critical importance to the Assistant Commissioner.
The reason that Spark’s movements and the time that he made them would suddenly matter was because a man named John Tyson, who was the husband of Donna Rice and the father of Jordan, would come forward and claim that that Steve Gollschewski was not in fact in the place that he swore that he had been between the hours of 1,00 and 2.00 pm on the day that his family died in the floodwaters.
Tyson would contend that between 1.00 and 2,00 pm on the day of the 10th of January 2011 the Assistant Commissioner was in fact nowhere near the the Grand Central at all, but rather that he was a passenger in an unmarked police vehicle in which his deputy, Detective Inspector David Isherwood, and another very senior police officer were also travelling.
He would claim that this unmarked police vehicle carrying the three highly ranked officers had at 1.40 pm come to a halt 20 meters from at an intersection of 2 main roads quite some kilometers away for the shopping centre where the Assistant Commissioner claimed to be.
The intersection 20 meters from where the unmarked police car stopped was flooded and the water was rising quickly, Tyson would say in a submission he was to make to a parliamentary Senate Committee..
And there in the middle of the flooded intersection, alone and palely loitering, stood a white Mercedes Benz sedan with his wife and children inside.
A clear inference could be drawn from Tyson’s claim that the three police officers saw his family members – only 1 of whom would live another hour – stranded in the rising waters
Then, according to Tyson, the unmarked police car turned and drove away.
If what John Tyson was saying was true the Assistant Commissioner’s career would be over in a heartbeat.
Losing his job though would be the least of Gollscheski’s problems, for if Tyson’s claims were correct then one of the most senior police officers in the State had committed perjury to a Commission of Inquiry, and had conspired to pervert the course of justice.
If Tyson’s version of events was right, Steve Gollschewski was going to jail.
Edward Spark’s recall of the events of the day was suddenly important. Very, very important.
And look what happened next ………
To be continued