Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Graffiti drain survivor: 'I wish I had died'

THE sole survivor of Sydney's double drain-drowning yesterday said he would "gladly trade places" with his two dead friends.

Graphic arts student Holly Legge, 21, from St Peters, and her friend Dwane Larosa, 25, from Pennant Hills, drowned after being dragged almost a kilometre by floodwaters rushing through the stormwater drain where they had gathered to drink and spray graffiti.

Michal Malinowski, 27, who was with the pair, was swept out to Lurline Bay, where he was rescued. Yesterday Mr Malinowski, the owner of Newtown spray-painting business Five Six Seven King, said he "deeply regretted" the events of Sunday night.s one of the largest suppliers of spray paint to street artists and taggers in Sydney.

Tragedy ... a photo of the victim Dwane Larosa is left on a post near the scene of his death. Picture: Craig Greenhill

Speaking from his family's Pennant Hills home, Mr Malinowski's brother Adam read from a prepared statement.

"As you can imagine, he is in deep shock after the dramatic and tragic experience that took the lives of two of his friends and almost his own," he said. "He deeply regrets the whole event and would gladly turn back the clock and trade places with them if he possibly could.

"Michal feels deeply for the family, friends and loved ones of Holly and Dwane. He cannot understand why he survived and they did not."

Michael Gustav Malinowski, 27, the owner of paint supply shop Five Six Seven on King Street, Newtown, is one of the largest suppliers of spray paint to street artists and taggers in Sydney.Mr Malinowski's shop has remained closed since the accident.

He was interviewed by detectives from Maroubra police late yesterday but no decision has been made on whether he will be charged. Graffiti squad police confirmed yesterday that Mr La Rossa was known to the unit, with past offenses ranging from drugs, goods in custody and assault.

Witnesses at the scene of the double drowning said Mr Malinowski had become distraught and threatened to throw himself back into the water when he realised his two friends had not made it out alive.

Adam Malinowski said his brother was still suffering greatly. Adam , who said he too was close friends with Mr Legge and Mr La Rossa, fought to hold back tears when he said the group were "artists" and not part of the Sydney Cave Clan, a group that explore tunnels. "The graffiti they were doing [inside the drainage outlet] was true art. It was like a mural.

"It just happened that they chose to do it at the wrong place, wrong time. It just happened in an instant. [Michael said] there was a big sound … like thunder. He's probably thinking why was he the only one to survive."

"He is still traumatized, he is still grieving over the loss of his two friends and has had some counseling. It is the first time that someone close to Michael has died, so he is feeling terrible. You just can't imagine how the families are feeling," Adam Malinowski said.

"At the moment, he is under the care of a professional counselor while he comes to terms with his harrowing experience and is not in any condition to talk personally as the shock and trauma have set in deeply."

Sunday's disastrous venture follows encounters with the law by Michael Malinowski that included an unsuccessful attempt by police to close his Newtown paint shop or restrict the types of sprays he could sell.

On April 4, 2006, he was arrested while painting on a wall of the M2 Motorway at Beecroft. He was convicted, fined $400 and ordered to pay $67 court costs.

On December 12, 2006, he was convicted for selling spray paint to a minor, fined $650 and also ordered to pay $67 court costs.

In an interview with The Sun-Herald after his shop opened in 2005, Michael Malinowski said he was determined to educate the area's youth about the do's and don'ts of "street art".

He was responding to concerns that his business would become a one-stop shop for vandals.

But he said: "There will always be a minority who do the wrong thing, who would probably do the wrong thing if the shop was here or not … it's our responsibility to try to educate people to use these products for art and not vandalism."

After his conviction for vandalizing the M2 wall he said: "I pleaded guilty because I did the wrong thing. I don't really want to say any more. I'd prefer it if you didn't write anything. This shop is my livelihood."

The Premier, Morris Iemma, said yesterday he saw no need for Sydney Water to remove maps of tunnels and drains from its website despite the tragedy.

Mr Iemma said Sydney Water was working with police in investigations into the incident but said staying out of drains should be a matter of simple common sense.

"Regardless of where you get the information from, whether you access it from the web, whether you get it from the newspaper or whether you just get it by driving around, these are not places for you to be," Mr Iemma said.

"It is in the territory of personal responsibility.

"Whether it's a drain or a train, graffiti can lead to deadly consequences or serious injury. That doesn't underscore the devastation that the families are feeling and my heart goes out to them."

Friends pay respect

Yesterday afternoon a group of 14 friends, including Mr Larosa's girlfriend Bobbi, returned to Lurline Bay in Sydney's east to pay their respects.

Photos and items of clothing were tied to the cliff face, along with flowers, an Australian flag and a crushed can of Jack Daniels. They also used a black Texta to cover a pillar in messages for Mr Larosa.

"I still can't believe you wore a pink shirt 4 me, XOXO Bobbi", his girlfriend wrote.

A friend of Ms Legge has also written about her online, describing her as "an amazing artist and a beautiful soul".

"She painted the female form beautifully and amazing landscapes," the friend said. "She was an extremely talented person."

Ms Legge, a graphic arts student at TAFE, also had a full-time job and was involved in at least one community project, her friend said.

"She was a member of a group that has personally financed a warehouse for the use of artists such as herself and it has been approved by the council. The warehouse is currently having disabled access put in at the cost of those artists financing it.
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