Coroner probes death of ‘hero’ monkey thief in prison crash

A man who went "from villain to hero" after stealing a marmoset and saltwater crocodile before thwarting a plot to blow up a service station was not wearing a helmet or seatbelt when he was killed in an ATV crash at Holtze Prison last year, a court has heard.

Deputy Coroner Kelvin Currie told an inquest into Benny Watts' death the 31-year-old former construction worker was serving time for drug and weapons offences and working as a foreman in the prison's horticulture section when he crashed the vehicle on May 8.

Mr Currie said Watts had sped up to get ahead of another ATV before slamming into a mound of dirt and was thrown from the vehicle.

Benny Watts with his sister Rebecca.
Benny Watts with his sister Rebecca.

"The vehicle became airborne, rotating and/or flipping before landing on its wheels on top of Benny," he said.

"His head and chest were pinned under the front axle."

Other prisoners lifted the ATV off an unconscious Mr Watts before starting CPR and sounding the alarm with prison guards who called an ambulance but his heart eventually stopped and he could not be revived.



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The two other prisoners working with Mr Watts on the day and who desperately tried to save his life after the crash, Thomas Roddick and Damien Barbi, both gave evidence that the trio was unsupervised by corrections officers at the time.

Mr Roddick, who is serving a six year manslaughter sentence after kicking a man to death in Palmerston in 2018, told the court no helmets were available to the prisoners and none of them ever wore seatbelts while working in the vehicles.

"We hop in and out of the buggy that much we just forget to put it back on," he said.

Benny Watts made the front page of the NT News in 2008.
Benny Watts made the front page of the NT News in 2008.

Mr Barbi, who was jailed for six years in 2018 for importing about $120,000 worth of cocaine, told investigators the situation had been "a recipe for disaster" and said after basic training, no one ever told him to wear a seatbelt.

In a heartfelt statement, Mr Watts' sister Tamara Willcox described her brother as "the ultimate Territorian".

"From pig hunting in dense croc infested bushland to getting lost at sea in just a tinnie, he was an adventurer," she said.

"No matter what mischief he got himself into, he found the bright side, a way to laugh in any situation."

Ms Willcox said while her brother had "obviously made some poor choices", he had been looking forward to getting out on parole and turning his life around.

"Nothing exemplified his bravery to us more than when he took down a person trying to set a petrol station alight while everyone else was running away," she said.

"He did something that day that showed that he had internal courage and knew to help others even when there was danger to him."

The prison's chief horticulture industry officer William Gobbert, who also helped try to resuscitate Mr Watts on the day, said seatbelts had been mandatory even before the crash.

But he told the court that since then devices had been fitted on the vehicles that meant they wouldn't start without the belts in place and helmets were now also provided.

The inquest continues on Wednesday.




Originally published as Coroner probes death of 'hero' monkey thief in prison crash