Victoria Police Legacy overwhelmed at response to tragedy

Published by The Age on 25 April 2020

The charity supporting the families of fallen police officers has been overwhelmed by the generosity of Victorians in the wake of the Eastern Freeway tragedy that took four lives on Wednesday.

Victoria Police Legacy chief executive Lex De Man said close to $300,000 had been raised for the officers' families by Saturday morning and more significant pledges were on the way.

The funds have been raised in just two full bank days, despite the crushing economic downturn of the coronavirus pandemic and stay-at-home restrictions.

He said donations had ranged from children's pocket money to thousands of dollars from individuals and businesses.

“I’m so proud to see the way the Victorian community has got behind police. The response has been outstanding. Just amazing," Mr De Man said.

"I put it this way, and this is only my view, everybody in the last three to five weeks have been separated and, in a way, this has very much brought the community together, even though we’re in isolation. People are focused on this one issue: 'How could this happen to our police?'”

Mr De Man said every dollar donated would go directly to the families of Constable Josh Prestney, Constable Glen Humphris, Leading Senior Constable Lynette Taylor and Senior Constable Kevin King.

All four were in the emergency lane of the Eastern Freeway and preparing to impound a pulled-over black Porsche when a semi-trailer ploughed into them about 5.40pm on Wednesday.

The biggest single loss of life in Victoria Police history has triggered an outpouring of community grief.

“People ask me, ‘what can I do?’ and I say two things. One, when you see the next police officer, stop, wave and say hello," Mr De Man said.

"Secondly, if you want to donate to the families – whether it’s $1, $10 or whatever – they will appreciate that. Because to me, it’s not actually about the money, it’s about the recognition. These families will understand the community holds their loved ones in their heart.”

Mr De Man was one of the thousands of people in their driveways to commemorate Anzac Day yesterday. He said the solidarity in his street in such troubling times was a moment every bit as special as the Gallipoli dawn service he attended on the 100th anniversary of the first landing.

“I was standing out there with tears running down my cheeks," he said.

"It just felt as though I was not only honouring the diggers, but also honouring those four. And I think many people probably felt that way as well.”

A visibly-emotional Police Association secretary Wayne Gatt said on Friday a female officer was reduced to tears while telling him about a member of the public buying her a coffee and thanking her.

“Last night we saw Melbourne light up in blue and we also saw a little flicker in the hearts of our members light up as well,” he said of Thursday night's show of solidarity in the skyline.

“That’s made us feel that little bit better for that period of time.”