Man responsible for fatal crash that claimed Heathcote girl Georgia Edsall-French's life sentenced to prison

MISSED: Heathcote teenager Georgia Edsall-French, left, with her little sisters Matilda and Lily, the day before the crash in which she lost her life. The man responsible for the collision has been jailed.
MISSED: Heathcote teenager Georgia Edsall-French, left, with her little sisters Matilda and Lily, the day before the crash in which she lost her life. The man responsible for the collision has been jailed.

Purple ribbons adorned the lapels of Kym Edsall and Terry French, their daughters Tayla, Grace, Lily and Matilda, and other family and friends, when they walked through the doors of Bowen District Court last Monday morning.

The ribbons were a tribute to 15-year-old Georgia Edsall-French, their much-loved daughter, sister and friend, who was killed in a head-on collision near the north Queensland town a little over two years ago.

And Georgia’s loved ones were at court to see the man responsible for the crash answer for his actions.

Andrew Connolly, 24, pleaded guilty to dangerous operation of a vehicle, causing death and grievous bodily harm, for the crash that claimed Georgia’s life and seriously injured Matilda, who was 8 at the time.

Judge Stuart Durward sentenced Connolly to three and a half years' imprisonment, to be suspended after 14 months, with an operational period of three and a half years.

Connolly was also disqualified from driving for three and a half years.

Georgia, Lily, Matilda and Kym were on holiday and travelling along the Bruce Highway near Bowen on July 24, 2015, when Connolly's utility, heading in the opposite direction, crossed into their lane and crashed into their car.

Fifteen-year-old Georgia died at the scene.

Matilda suffered broken legs which required numerous surgeries and Kym sustained foot injuries, while Lily was relatively unhurt.

Terry, Georgia’s older sister Tayla and her younger sister Grace were home in Heathcote when they received the devastating news.

Connolly had originally been committed to stand trial, but decided to plead guilty.

“I believe we’re really fortunate no trial went ahead, because it would have been horrific,” Kym said.

“I was there [at the crash], but once you have memories etched in your head, you can’t get them out, so there’s no need for anyone else to have to have them.

“So that was a blessing, that there was no trial.”

She said that while she had never doubted a jury would find him guilty, she also later realised that there was a possibility justice would not have been delivered had a trial gone ahead.

Kym said she was “unbelievably proud” of her family, speaking of the empathy her youngest daughters Lily and Matilda displayed that day for Connolly, even after everything they had been through because of his actions.

 Kym, Terry and Tayla prepared victim impact statements for the sentencing, with Kym opting to deliver hers to those in the courtroom herself.

She spoke of the life sentence Georgia’s loved ones have had to endure, and the way her daughter’s death had impacted not only on Georgia's family and friends, but the wider community.

News of Georgia’s passing was met with a huge outpouring of grief in Heathcote and Bendigo, and her memory has not faded in the time that has passed since her death.

The Heathcote District Football Netball League instated a memorial game in her honour, and Bendigo South East College created a vegetable garden known as ‘G’s Garden’, a tribute to the student who has been described as a friend to everybody.

Georgia is remembered by loved ones as a caring, vivacious girl with a contagious laugh, someone who loved music and enjoyed playing sport.

Kym said people smiled when speaking about Georgia, who herself was always seen beaming with her positive attitude.

For the sentencing, Kym prepared a folder of photographs and newspaper clippings from Georgia’s life and death – including the first family photo and then the last, taken in the funeral home – to give Judge Durward some sense of the enormous hole her loss had left.

Kym said she was glad Connolly had owned up to his actions – something she had wanted him to do all along – but he would not look her in the eye as she spoke about Georgia.

But there is relief Connolly has been taken off the road, and this part of her family’s ordeal is now over.

“[I’m] relieved… this guy owning his crime, that has been a huge process, and that has now been packed away,” Kym said.

“That’s one less thing I have to be concerned about.”

The family spent a few days in north Queensland after the trial.

They visited the crash site – the first time for Terry, Tayla and Grace – where a memorial for Georgia sits by the side of the road, decorated with flowers and purple ribbon.

Despite the emotionally charged nature of the sentencing, it was a trip Kym describes as a healing experience for the family.

She said she focused on the glass being half-full, so was happy that the court process was over and the family was able to spend some much-needed quality time together.

“We are always creating new memories,” she said.

“We know how the importance of them, and just how precious life is.”

While in the area they stayed in a beautiful old house overlooking the ocean, and in the mornings would watch the sun rise over the water and the Whitsundays.

And they spent a day at Whitehaven Beach, where they built a small sand sculpture in the shape of the letter ‘G’.

“The sentence was on the Monday so we got… the process part, that was inevitable, out of the way, and then went ahead building new memories, with Georgia all the way with us,” Kym said.