Aussie jockey's fatal fall ruled a 'misadventure'

Coroner cautions on risks of scaling ledges, balconies to enter flats when locked out

By the time he was 22, Australian Tim Bell had distinguished himself as an outstanding jockey, with a Brisbane champion title and more than 20 Group wins to his name.

Hungry for international success, the lightweight go-getter from New South Wales, who could ride at 50kg, came to Singapore on a 3 1/2- month licence to race here. The former Queensland Jockey of the Year rode five winners in his first month, on top of a previous win during a one-day visit in July last year, and earned his first silverware in October, when he won the $150,000 Group 3 El Dorado Classic, a traditional lead-up race to the Group 1 Longines Singapore Gold Cup.

But just two weeks later, Mr Bell's seven-year career was abruptly cut short when he died after a 12-storey fall from a ledge. He had been trying to enter his 12th-floor penthouse at the Mi Casa condo in Choa Chu Kang, when he realised he did not have his keys. He then climbed onto a corridor ledge to enter the unit via a kitchen window, but lost his footing and fell to the ground as his girlfriend watched helplessly.

Yesterday, State Coroner Marvin Bay found Mr Bell's fall to be entirely accidental and his death a tragic misadventure. The coroner found no evidence of foul play or suicidal intent. Mr Bell, who had a cheerful disposition and was in a loving relationship, was both professionally successful and personally fulfilled.

The coroner found parallels with another case: In April 2014, Filipino Milagrosa Altoveros Okamoto fell after she lost her grip and footing while climbing back into her fifth-floor condo unit via a neighbour's balcony. She was negotiating an overhanging partition wall, after climbing over a railing.

Mr Bell had climbed a ledge to enter his 12th-floor condo unit via an open window, when he lost his footing and fell over on Nov 3 last year.
Mr Bell had climbed a ledge to enter his 12th-floor condo unit via an open window, when he lost his footing and fell over on Nov 3 last year. PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

"These cases starkly show the risks involved when persons who find themselves locked out of their apartments act impulsively to regain access by traversing parapets, balconies or other supporting structures to return to their units," he said.

"It should be clear from these sad circumstances that these improvised manoeuvres are highly dangerous as these structures are certainly not purposefully designed to facilitate easy access for re-entry into their units."

The coroner's court heard that sometime before noon on Nov 3 last year, Mr Bell, his girlfriend, Ms Heidi Whalley, and a housemate went to Boomarang Bistro and Bar in Robertson Quay to watch the Melbourne Cup - one of Australia's most prestigious horse races.

Mr Bell drank about eight bottles of beer there.

At about 4.30pm, he called his father in Australia. They spoke about the race and the younger Mr Bell also said he was looking forward to a race in Singapore that weekend.

He left for home with his girlfriend later and reached the condo at about 6.45pm.

When Mr Bell realised he did not have his keys, he decided to climb into the unit through an open kitchen window - going against the advice of his girlfriend, who suggested they wait for his housemate to return and unlock the door.

Mr Bell lost his balance and fell. He was found lying motionless, with his face down on a grass patch. He suffered injuries, including a ruptured heart and liver. Resuscitation was carried out en route to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 8.20pm.

A toxicology report found his blood alcohol level to be about three times above the drink-driving limit.

In a statement a day after the accident, the Singapore Turf Club expressed its condolences to Mr Bell's family and friends. Trainer Steven Burridge, who helped bring him to Singapore, reportedly said: "It's a tragedy. Timmy had the whole future ahead of him. Not only could he ride, but he was also such a great young man and was very driven to become a very good jockey."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 28, 2016, with the headline 'Aussie jockey's fatal fall ruled a 'misadventure''. Print Edition | Subscribe