Victim in Żejtun hit and run was flung 20m across the road following impact

CCTV footage, mobile phone location data and a tip off helped police piece together movements of driver who killed Antoine Degabriele in Żejtun hit and run accident

Hit and run victim Antoine Degabriele (inset) was flung 20m across the road and his lifeless body was found in a field
Hit and run victim Antoine Degabriele (inset) was flung 20m across the road and his lifeless body was found in a field

CCTV footage shows how the victim of a deadly hit and run accident in Żejtun was thrown forward by a powerful impact, a court was told.

The suspect’s car became visible in the frame immediately after, a police inspector testified today as the compilation of evidence hearing against Dean Donovan Frendo continued.

Frendo, 23, stands charged with involuntary homicide in connection with the hit-and-run incident which killed Antoine Degabriele in Żejtun on 25 August this year.

He is also facing other charges which include driving a vehicle without a licence and insurance policy, exceeding the speed limit and tampering with evidence. 

Degabriele’s lifeless body was later found in a field, next to President Anton Buttigieg Street in Żejtun. He was 51 years old.

One of the Homicide Squad investigators who handled the case, Inspector Shawn Pawney, took the witness stand when the case continued before Magistrate Ian Farrugia this morning.

The inspector explained how car debris and the body of the victim had been discovered by a passer-by in a field adjacent to the road. The right arm was in an extended position, exposing a visible wound to the victim’s abdomen. A large amount of blood had pooled around the body, he added. 

The victim’s Tallinja card and shoes were also recovered from the field, the shoes being found some distance away from the body.

Inspector Pawney explained that the Homicide Squad had been asked to assist in the investigation as it appeared that a car was involved in the incident but the driver had not contacted the police.

A missing person’s report had been filed by the victim’s mother at Żejtun police station, about an hour before the body was found, stating that her son had not arrived home, the inspector said.

The car parts found in the road were identified as belonging to a silver coloured Mazda, either a Mazda 2 or a Mazda Demio, and their positioning indicated that the hit and run driver was coming from the direction of Birżebbuġa.

Police had then mapped out the victim’s movements from CCTV cameras, Inspector Pawney told the court, explaining that a CCTV camera mounted on a private residence had captured the victim’s body being flung forward by a powerful force, followed immediately afterwards by a Mazda Demio. He pointed out that the speed limit on the road in question was 50km/hr.

Other CCTV cameras had also captured footage of the same vehicle, now with one headlamp out, driving in the same direction later on. This was later found to match the damage sustained by the suspect’s vehicle in the impact.

“The incident appears to have happened at 11:23pm. At 11:31pm, the same vehicle is spotted near the Birżebbuġa branch of Maltapost,” said the inspector, adding that police cars had measured how long it took to drive from the impact spot to the Maltapost branch, arriving at approximately six minutes which was consistent with the CCTV timeline.

Dean Donovan Frendo’s mobile phone number connected to antennae near MaltaPost around the same time, before coming to a halt on a street in Marsaxlokk, where he was later found.

The police had also received confidential information stating that the driver of a Mazda with specific number plates had been involved in the incident, he said. The inquiring magistrate was informed of this and a warrant of arrest was issued for the owner, who turned out to be Frendo.

He was arrested on 6 August at a residence in Birżebbuġa, just two days after the incident, said the inspector. “The incident occurred on 4 August, the body was discovered on 5 August and the accused was arrested on 6 August.”

Frendo had told the police that his car was at Xgħajra.

He had exercised his right to silence during the interrogation and did not answer any of the questions put to him, bar two: one about his mobile phone number and that he owned and used the vehicle in question. He did not reply to having used it on the day of the incident.

Part of the Mazda, recovered from the victim’s clothes, matched the vehicle, which was registered to the accused. It was noted that Frendo had not renewed the car’s insurance and road licence, telling the police that he had been unable to afford the cost. 

He had tried to get the damage repaired at a spray garage in Xgħajra as the windscreen, passenger side pillar and mudguard all needed replacing. 

The owner of the garage was questioned, telling the police that Frendo had wanted to fix the damage quickly and had even brought the parts himself. 

The mechanic had noted that there were other parts of the car which had also been damaged some time before and had rusted over. Frendo did not ask for these parts to be repaired.

Inspector Pawney told the court that early in the morning of 5 August, the location data pertaining to the accused’s mobile number showed that it was in Xgħajra, corroborating the account given to the police by the sprayer.

Frendo appears to have confessed to a woman on Instagram. She had contacted Frendo to arrange the collection of spectacles from her workplace, said the inspector, and he had told her about the incident. “They had exchanged Instagram messages, him sending her pictures of his dirty car, telling her that he had run someone over the night before.”

Lawyer Franco Debono, defence counsel to Frendo, asked the inspector a question about the CCTV camera’s frame rate, to which the witness was unable to reply. 

“How far away from the traffic lights did the impact occur?” asked the lawyer.

“The point of impact doesn’t appear on the footage, but the body was [flung] 15 to 20 metres away from the pedestrian crossing, so the impact took place ahead of the traffic lights,” replied the inspector. He explained that the body had come to rest near an electricity pole, which was right beside the traffic lights. “The body was found literally beside the traffic lights, but the impact took place before.”

“So, the victim wasn’t crossing at the traffic lights?” Debono asked. The witness confirmed that this was correct.

The case was adjourned to December.

Prosecutors Etienne Savona and Anthony Vella from the Office of the Attorney General are assisting police Inspectors Shawn Pawney and Roderick Frendo.

Lawyer Franco Debono is defence counsel.

Lawyers Jason Azzopardi and Kris Busietta are representing the victim’s family in the proceedings.