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CRIME

Drunk Swiss holidaymaker takes Austrian couple on drive from hell

A drunk Swiss man gave a couple from Tyrol a trip from hell when he got into the car in which they were sitting and raced off on a joyride which could have ended in tragedy.

Drunk Swiss holidaymaker takes Austrian couple on drive from hell
Photo: Paul Gillingwater

The drive ended with him crashing the car into the wall of a tunnel. “We thought we were going to die,” 35-year-old passenger Mario told the Krone newspaper.

He had been sitting in the back of the parked car which belonged to a friend of his, chatting with his girlfriend Andrea (28), outside a bar in Sölden on Saturday night. Their friend had gone into the bar to drop something off. Mario said that their friend left the motor running as he had gone into the bar for a matter of minutes. “Almost as soon as he left this crazy man jumped in the car and took hold of the steering wheel,” he said.

“I shouted at him and told him to get out, but he just laughed and drove off,” Mario said, adding that the Swiss man had threatened to kill them both if they didn’t get out of the car, but had then driven off at speed before they could open the door.

The man was driving between 140 and 160 km/h. He then made a sudden stop and the frightened couple tried to get out of the car but he accelerated again – driving onto the pavements and into guardrails, and almost hitting a pedestrian.

“I dialled the emergency number and asked the police to help us, but at this point I thought it was all over,” Mario said. “I tried to grab him from the back seat and choke him but he hit me and continued at full speed into a tunnel. It was then that I blacked out,” he added.

Hubert Juen, the head of Imst district police, said that the entire journey lasted for around two kilometres. “The Swiss man deliberately crashed into the tunnel wall but we’re still not sure what his motive was. He was well over the drink driving limit and we are investigating whether drugs were also involved.”

The man, who was on holiday in Austria, is now in police custody and will be charged with attempted murder. He has told police that he has no memory of the incident.

Mario and Andrea suffered slight spinal injuries, as well as shoulder and rib injuries and facial abrasions. Mario believes they are lucky to be alive. “Next to the tunnel where we crashed is a 100 metre deep canyon, if we had gone down that no one would have survived,” he said.

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CRIME

Does Austria have a street car racing problem?

A fatal accident involving a speeding driver in the streets of Austria's capital Vienna has once again sparked the debate about illegal car racing in the country.

Does Austria have a street car racing problem?

A 26-year-old man sped through the streets of central Vienna in his Mercedes on a Sunday evening.

After he failed to stop at a red light he mowed into a car being driven by a 48-year-old woman. She later died in hospital.

The police had said a video recorder at the time of the accident showed evidence the driver was taking part in some kind of illegal race. Even though a Vienna court later said it saw “no evidence at all” that indicates street racing, the debate was already ignited.

Does Austria, and especially Vienna, have an illegal car racing problem?

According to the Viennese police, there are no statistics specifically for street racing. However, “there is an active racing scene in Vienna”, spokesperson Markus Dittrich told The Local.

READ ALSO: What happens if you get arrested in Austria?

Estimates put the number of “members of the illegal scene” in Vienna between 800 to 1,000 people. Current hotspots are still the area around Kahlenberg, Triester Straße, the Oberlaa area and the Kagran business park.

The police measured instances of speeding and from April to August 2022, around 6,500 reports were placed in the capital and 30 driving licenses were confiscated on site.

What are the police currently doing?

“In order to take decisive action against the active racing scene, checks have been significantly increased.”

“Furthermore, coordinated traffic planning checks are being carried out by the Vienna police department and various city police commands, and the relevant municipal departments are also involved”, Dittrich said.

In August, the City of Vienna took action in one of the “hotspots” for racing, adding 65 concrete barriers to prevent races in the car park in Kahlenberg, as The Local reported.

As racers move to different areas once blocks are put in place, the police also resort heavily on the two consequences it can impose: high fines and the revocation of driving licenses.”.

READ ALSO: Vienna wants to take action against speeding drivers

Fines can reach up to €5,000 on higher offences, such as driving 40 km/h or more over the speeding limit in a city (or 50 km/h above limits on a road). In addition, driving licences can be withheld for one month or three months in the case of repeated offences.

From an excess of 80 km/h, the license is taken away for half a year.

Calls for changes in the law

The recent debate in Austria has also now brought the issue of possible changes in the law, with experts claiming that the current legislation might not be sufficient.

Illegal racing is not a crime per se, but offences such as “endangering physical safety” or “deliberate endangerment of the public” are applied. If people are killed or injured, the crime is negligence – with up to three years in prison possible for those convicted of grossly negligent homicide.

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about driving on the autobahn in Austria

Some are asking for “zero tolerance“, saying that the crimes should not be seen as negligence but as murder – those who drive too fast or under the influence of alcohol take a risk knowing they might kill someone.

Others, however, say that turning negligence into murder holds a trap. “Attempted murder is also punishable. So the penalty for just participating in an illegal auto race where nothing happened? In practice, for example, 12 years in prison for 350 meters of a car race on Triester Straße?” wrote Constitutional Court member Dr Michael Rami on Twitter.

Still, the head of the legal services at Austria’s traffic authority ÖAMTC, Martin Hoffer, told public broadcaster ORF: “To prove murder against someone, you, of course, have to prove the corresponding intentionality”.

“That doesn’t mean a specific intention to kill a certain person, but to seriously consider it possible (and to accept) that someone may die in that situation.” So, a racing driver may not set out to kill someone, but they acknowledge that their actions could result in somebody’s death.

That could be a realistic scenario in an illegal race – and the debate in Austria continues.

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