Death driver ‘coward’ called out after years on the run


THIS year will be a decade since the tragic death of nursing student Dean Hofstee.

He was only 19 when he died in an October 2008 collision with a car driven by another 19-year-old, Puneet Puneet, who was speeding and drunk.

Mr Hofstee's friend Clancy Coker, 20, was seriously injured. Police estimate Puneet was drunk and driving at 148km/h - more than double the posted limit - when he crashed into the pair.

Puneet Puneet doesn’t want to return to Australia.
Puneet Puneet doesn’t want to return to Australia.

Puneet, now 28, pleaded guilty to culpable driving and was on bail ahead of a sentencing hearing when he used a friend's passport to flee Australia.

For four long years he hid from authorities until he was arrested in India, on his wedding day. But the wheels of justice turn slowly and his case has been dragging through the Indian justice system for years. He is locked in a legal battle to extradite him to Australia to face court - and is doing everything he can to avoid returning to this country.

That includes begging the Queensland family of Mr Hofstee for forgiveness and claiming it would be unsafe for him to return to Australia because the country is, in his eyes, inherently racist.

"Whatever happened was unfortunate and not deliberate, I request the families to pardon me for the thing which wasn't deliberate," he said last week. "I request them to drop this case ... My life is also ruined."

Puneet Puneet in 2008.
Puneet Puneet in 2008.

He insists he fled Australia because he feared for his life.

Freelance journalist Tawqeer Hussain told Melbourne radio station 3AW Puneet believes the crash was "just an accident, not a deliberate act to kill someone".

Hussain said Puneet looked "very frail" when he was last in court and walked slowly with the support of his uncle. He accused Australia of treating him like a terrorist when it was "just a road accident".

His calls for sympathy have not moved the Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, who today branded him a "coward".

"The fact that he in a cowardly act, scarpered, ran away from facing the consequences of his actions, speaks volumes for his character," Mr Andrews told reporters.

He vowed to raise the case with Indian officials when he visited the country later this month.

"Everybody across Victoria would be pleased to see him sent back to do the jail time that he should do right here."

Asked about Puneet's recent statements, Mr Andrews said: "He might be in a much stronger position asking for forgiveness if he fronted up here and do the time that he should," Mr Andrews said.

But there are signs the case is drawing to an end.

Dean Hofstee was 19 when he was killed.
Dean Hofstee was 19 when he was killed.

Final arguments over a petition to call more witnesses in the case will be heard on February 2. The defence wants to present more witnesses over claimed medical conditions suffered by Puneet and to examine what extent he would be in danger if he was to return to Australia.

At the court on Monday, lawyers for the Union of India - which handles extradition cases for the Indian Government - cross-examined claims made by a friend of the defendant, that Puneet would face extreme racism and violence if he was to be extradited to an Australian prison.

The testimony from Pankaj Monga, who spent time with Puneet in Australia was described as "hearsay" and "a series of fabricated stories" by Union of India lawyers.

Justice Gurmohina Kaur ruled that arguments on the call for more witnesses would be made a few weeks from now.

The defence argued the date was too soon, to which she said the case had been delayed and postponed enough.

"I cannot give you a later date, I want the matter ended," she said.

Previously, the defence submitted medical reports saying Puneet is suffering from various ailments, including schizophrenia, kidney and liver problems. He attended the hearing and was supported by relatives.


Clancy Coker was seriously injured in the crash.
Clancy Coker was seriously injured in the crash.

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