'I felt two bumps and he was stuck under the car'
THE nightmares never leave... the anxiety... the shame.
For Brisbane medical worker and mother of two Libby Coman, they are as intense as that fateful winter's night in 2018 when she ran over her abusive partner as she tried to escape him in her car..
Early last month, Ms Coman, 54, was acquitted of the manslaughter of Clive Douglas Crandley, 56, and of a second charge of dangerous operation of a vehicle causing death while adversely affected by an intoxicating substance.
At the time of the incident, she was five times over the legal alcohol limit.
Speaking publicly for the first time, Ms Coman described the ordeal as "absolutely horrific".
"It's something you never get out of your mind," she said.
"I have flashbacks every day, nightmares constantly, and I've been receiving weekly treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression."
Ms Coman, eldest daughter of prominent ear nose and throat surgeon and Nudgee College old boy Bill Coman, said "the aftermath is with you forever and affects your whole family".
Her brave decision to share her story comes as domestic violence support agencies report a massive spike in cases due to coronavirus isolation, and ahead of a State Government virtual DV summit on Wednesday.
"I never in a million years thought it would happen to me," Ms Coman said.
"I had an idyllic childhood, and all the men in my life - my ex-husband, my father, son, brother, uncle - had been gentle, decent people."
On July 28, 2018, a terrified Ms Coman ran over Mr Crandley after he came rushing towards her and slipped backwards on wet grass on their Wamuran property, about 60km north of Brisbane.
"It was dreadful, he came out of nowhere, it happened in the blink of an eye," she said.
"I felt two bumps and then got out of the car and he was stuck under it. I called triple-0 and had to stay on the phone until police arrived."
The couple, who met two years earlier through a dating agency, had been drinking for several hours when Mr Crandley flew into one of his increasingly familiar rages, screaming at her up close and calling her an "f…ing bitch".
Ms Coman, a petite 150cm tall and weighing 44kg, feared her partner, a "scary" 191cm and almost three times her weight, would start punching her, again, and kill her.
So she quietly left the home, intending to drive down to the back of the 5ha property and hide - as she'd done many times before - and wait for him to pass out in front of the TV.
What happened next would trigger 21 months of "sheer hell" for the usually bubbly Brisbane woman, who relied on her family and friends to get her through, particularly younger brother Scott, who is also an ENT surgeon, and classmates from her Stuartholme school years.
"They all stood by me, I lost nobody, yet after I was charged it was like a character assassination - I was living with the shame of what happened, why it happened, the shame it brought on my family, all the publicity, the accusations, people paint you out to be a criminal before you're proven innocent," she said.
"Waiting for the trial, my life was in suspended animation. I was on bail so had a curfew and checked in with police twice a week. I couldn't drive, and my job was on hold," said Ms Coman, a medical liaison officer at a major hospital.
The judge-only trial began on March 16 in Brisbane's Supreme Court after Justice Martin Burns granted the defence's request for no jurors due to coronavirus.
Delivering his verdict on April 3, Justice Burns said he accepted Ms Coman's account, and did not believe she deliberately tried to kill Mr Crandley, as the Crown had specifically argued.
Although she was "grossly intoxicated", with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.241%, he said he was not satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Ms Coman operated her vehicle dangerously, or that her driving was a significant cause of the death of Mr Crandley, also intoxicated (0.109%).
"The real and effective cause of Mr Crandley's death was the decision he made to place himself in front of Ms Coman's moving car," he said.
Justice Burns also referenced a "significant body of evidence" regarding the deceased's relationship with former wife Joanne Crandley, and subsequent partner Kaye Legge.
Ms Coman, who was represented by Michael Copley QC and Anderson Legal, said she would be forever grateful to the two women for testifying.
"I'd never met them, so it was fabulous they came forward," she said. "While it was really confronting to hear what they went through, I was relieved because it made my situation believable; their abuse was almost identical to mine."
Mrs Crandley told the court her former husband of 19 years headbutted her with such force he broke her nose, while Ms Legge, the man's partner between 2010 and 2015, said he was a heavy drinker who threatened to kill her dog and became "dark and angry" when she suggested he buy groceries as she was paying most bills.
Ms Coman - who divorced when her children Isabella, 23, and William, 21, were very young - was introduced to Mr Crandley, who also has adult children, Maggie-Bea and Harrison, via the dating agency A Table For Six.
"We met at C'est Bon French restaurant in Woolloongabba, and he wasn't someone I'd normally be attracted to," she recalled.
"He had a unit at Bribie Island and did plastering work, mostly on the Sunshine Coast, and I had a lovely townhouse at Indooroopilly (in Brisbane's west). "But the thing I was impressed by was his interest in horses," said Ms Coman, who owned a former racehorse called Row Boat and would acquire another horse, Midnight.
"We basically had nothing else in common but then you think, who am I to be judgmental? I should just give people a chance.
"Yes, there were little red flags, but you stick them away in the back of your mind."
Mr Crandley began watching Ms Coman ride her horse at Moggill, where it was agisted, and within weeks, suggested the couple move in together, on acreage, so he could buy a horse as well.
"That was my dream, to have horses on my own property," she said.
On the September 2016 weekend they moved into a rental property at Pullenvale, a dangerous pattern emerged.
"He started drinking heavily from then on, but instead of being mellow and enjoying it, it would make him extremely abusive," Ms Coman said.
"Little things would trigger him - the kitchen was his domain, and if I didn't put something back in the fridge exactly where he wanted it, he would get very angry.
"He would not allow me to cook and I had to eat what he made - stodgy sausages, frozen party pies, tinned food - or starve.
"If his socks were mismatched after I'd done the washing, it would set him off. His favourite was to call me a 'filthy houso'."
Ms Coman said her partner had difficulty getting on with anyone, and when his plastering business started to suffer because of his hostility, his vile behaviour intensified.
"He fought with everyone, including our neighbours at Pullenvale, so he said I had to sell my townhouse and we'd buy a place on the north side."
Life on the Wamuran property, for which they paid $790,000 in February 2018, was fraught.
"Driving home from work he would down a bottle of sparkling wine in the car, then open others," Ms Coman said.
On the day of his death, Mr Crandley started drinking in the morning. An LNP supporter, he left to assist at the polling booth in the Longman by-election and returned home around 2pm, and opened more wine.
Around 4pm, Ms Coman agreed to join him.
"He used to get so irate if I was drinking slowly, and he was continually topping up the big glasses he insisted we use," she said.
"But it was when I reminded him that my family - my dad, sister (Janet Gannon, a travel agent) and my children - were coming for lunch the next day that he totally lost it.
"He was shouting, 'Why should I pay for groceries to feed your f…ing family?'
"I was frightened, he was so big, and because he hit me a few weeks earlier I thought it would be the end, so I tried to slip away."
Looking back on the horror as she tries to rebuild her life, Ms Coman regrets keeping the abuse secret.
"I was ashamed to think I'd allowed myself to let this happen to me," she said.
"But until you're living with it, it's very hard, especially when you're financially invested. I loved my horses, my three cats, my two dogs and he threatened to kill them all. I was desperate to keep the peace.
"It was very much a matter of surviving and ensuring you didn't set off the ticking time bomb."
May is Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Month
Originally published as I didn't kill my abuser but I'm finally free of him