MISSING: Tartan Pizza is closed following co-owner Damian Sowerbutts' disappearance.
MISSING: Tartan Pizza is closed following co-owner Damian Sowerbutts' disappearance.

Questions remain following Maclean tragedy

FOR DAYS the wreckage of Damian Sowerbutts' car went unnoticed, sitting mere metres from a busy thoroughfare between Maclean and Yamba.

Shattered glass and twisted pieces of plastic rested in tall grass which concealed them from view. But a flame tree, visible from the road, and with impact damage to its base, went unnoticed by the hundreds of cars that passed by each day.

"There was nothing to indicate there had been a motor vehicle collision until you pull over, get out and have a look," Coffs/Clarence Acting Inspector Darren Williams said.

"Everything was hidden by long grass."

Instead, it took the intuition of a local resident to methodically walk along the riverbank in search of Damian.

"He'd read about his disappearance and had a hunch that the car might have ended up in the river," A/Insp. Williams said.

"It was just incredible that this gentleman played that hunch because Friday morning, he came into the station and said, 'I think I found him'."

Within hours a crime scene was established, and with the assistance of NSW Fisheries, a sonar machine located the submerged vehicle a few metres from the shore.

The front bumper of the white Suzuki Swift was found in the Clarence River, a few metres from the wreckage
The front bumper of the white Suzuki Swift was found in the Clarence River, a few metres from the wreckage

Police divers from Sydney later retrieved a body from the vehicle believed to be Damian but which has yet to be formally identified.

It was a tragic outcome few were expecting.

"We've had people walk off and then show up again two months later," A/Insp. Williams said.

"We thought that's what he's done; he's gone for a drive to cool off and to work out his next move in life. Nine times out of 10 that's what happens."

Security footage which captured Damian driving along River Street, Maclean at 2am Tuesday morning and multiple sightings of a Suzuki Swift at various camping grounds across the Clarence further fuelled hope that Damian simply needed a break and would return home.

But as the days passed and he failed to contact anyone, hopes of a happy reunion started to fade until it was finally shattered Friday morning.

Police watch as the dive team secure the submerged vehicle along Yamba Rd just outside of Maclean on Saturday morning, January 18, 2020.
Police watch as the dive team secure the submerged vehicle along Yamba Rd just outside of Maclean on Saturday morning, January 18, 2020.

Although the discovery has been a devastating outcome for Damian's family and friends, A/Insp. Williams said at the very least it provided some closure.

"There are a lot of families out there still wondering where their loved ones are which is why we take things like Missing Persons week to heart," he said.

Questions remain as to those final moments and what exactly caused the collision. However, deciding that outcome falls to just one person.

"It's not up to us to speculate what happened," A/Insp. Williams said.

"That process will be for the coroner who will release their findings."