A top Victorian cop has admitted the driver who tore down Melbourne’s Bourke Street mall and terrified pedestrians “got away from us”.
Specialist police seemingly had the runaway car boxed in when it crashed into a bollard while trying to flee police through the CBD mall on Thursday night.
The green Mitsubishi Lancer, with false plates, had earlier evaded public order response team officers on Swanston Street and drove into the mall, sending shoppers and pedestrians running for cover.
The Lancer was then blocked by two trams travelling along Bourke Street near Elizabeth Street and when police pulled in behind it seemed like getaway driver’s luck had run out.
But after ramming into the bollards outside Myer, the car was able to do a U-turn and head back up the mall towards Swanston Street and away from officers who had got out of their vehicle to try and affect an arrest.
Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius said the Lancer turned left into Swanston Street before heading down Little Lonsdale Street.
He said the fleeing vehicle “simply got away from us”.
“In the meantime our members have had to get back into their vehicle and follow that vehicle back up the mall,” Mr Cornelius said.
“Because of interaction with trams it was difficult for our people to maintain contact with what was now a fleeing vehicle.”
Mr Cornelius said the initial concern from officers was that it could be a hostile vehicle attack but as the scene unfolded police formed the view that the driver was just trying to get away from them
“That’s why one of the members for a short time drew their firearm,” he said.
“Based on the behaviour of that driver and where the vehicle went, we’re very confident that it wasn’t a hostile vehicle attack.
“We saw no evidence of pedestrians being targeted in the way in which the vehicle was being driven.
“Ultimately, the vehicle was lost.”
Two men, the driver and his passenger, who fled on foot when the Lancer hit the bollards outside Myer, remain on the run on Friday morning.
Mr Cornelius said they had “very good” lines of investigation and urged the pair to hand themselves in.
Police said the driver failed to stop when they tried to pull him over at 4.55pm on Bourke Street near Swanston Street over a “traffic related incident”.
“The vehicle evaded police and travelled north on Swanston Street before turning down Bourke Street Mall, driving along the tram tracks before crashing into a bollard,” a police spokeswoman said.
She said officers then drew their firearms but did not shoot when the car crashed into the bollards.
A video from the scene shows the car, blocked between a police vehicle and two trams, hit some of the bollards that line the shopping street.
A passenger gets out of the car while it is moving and runs away from the scene before the smashed up Lancer does a U-turn back along Bourke Street towards Swanston Street.
Police said the male passenger ran towards Elizabeth Street.
A witness who spoke to 9 News said the car hit the bollards with a loud “bang” and it was lucky nobody was in the vehicle’s path.
“If someone was sitting there … The bollard was lucky to be there,” the man said.
The car was spotted driving through Southbank and heading towards St Kilda before it was found by a member of the public in an underground carpark on Ashworth Street in Albert Park about 6.40pm without number plates.
Mr Cornelius said police knew who the plates were registered to and who the registered owner of the car was.
He said at this stage the car had not been reported as stolen.
He said the carpark belonged to a facility that had some Department of Health and Human Services housing and was secured, and could only be accessed via a fob key card.
“Either someone has let that vehicle in or the person driving that vehicle has been able to access that carpark by the way of a fob,” Mr Cornelius said.
Police are searching for two caucasian men in their late teens to early 20s.
The driver had dark short hair, was wearing a baseball cap and white “golfing style” gloves.
Mr Cornelius said investigators would release CCTV footage of the two suspects if they needed to but did not want to put them out pre-emptively and contaminate the recollection of witnesses.
“I am very confident that we will very shortly identify who we’re looking for and come knocking on their door,” he said.
There was some confusion of the type of the car, with initial reports suggesting it was a green Toyota Corolla. Police later confirmed it was a Mitsubishi Lancer.
“At this stage police do not believe the vehicle was intending to harm pedestrians, instead it was taking evasive action to avoid police intercept,” the spokeswoman said.
No one was injured.
The CBD street was the site of a horrific car rampage in January 2017 that killed six people and injured 27 others.
The safety bollards struck by the Lancer were installed following that deadly incident.
“Our view is those bollards performed exactly in the manner that they were intended to,” Mr Cornelius said.
He said the bollards provided pedestrians and members of the community to make themselves safe.
“Members of the public did exactly the right thing, they sought cover and they actually got behind the bollards and that put them in a position where they were safe from what the driver of the vehicle was trying to do,” Mr Cornelius said.
Anyone who witnessed the incident has been urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or upload their videos online.