Jail over farm guns and ammo theft

A MELBOURNE man who stole six firearms and ammunition from an Ouyen farm before driving down the wrong side of the Calder Highway to evade police has been jailed.

The County Court was told 24-year-old Cori Benkic was under aerial surveillance by the Victoria Police air wing while travelling on the Calder Highway in a stolen vehicle with two co-accused shortly after the firearms were stolen in June 2017.

Benkic and one of the accused had earlier entered a large shed on Gniel Road at Ouyen, where the owner stored firearms and ammunition.

Using chains attached to the vehicle, the two men then removed a gun safe from the wall and opened it, taking six firearms and a large quantity of ammunition.

Benkic, the male co-accused and a ­woman then travelled south on the Calder Highway in a Nissan utility, which had been stolen from NSW, when they came to the ­attention of police who attempted to intercept the vehicle.

Police activated their emergency lights and sirens and Benkic slowed down and stopped the vehicle in the emergency lane.

However, before the police could approach the vehicle, he took off at speed, driving diagonally across two lanes of traffic before crossing over the median strip and on to the wrong side of the highway.

Benkic then drove in the opposite ­direction of traffic for about 100 metres before he performed a U-turn and contin­ued travelling north along the Calder Highway, ­eventually switching places with his male co-accused, who then began driving.

The pair abandoned the car about 7.30pm after a police chase and fled on foot into a pine forest.

Police officers and canine units began a search and the men were located about 8.30pm. A search of the stolen vehicle found four of the firearms that had been stolen from the Gniel Road farm, along with associated ammunition.

County Court Judge John Carmody said it was Benkic’s use of the drug ice that drove him to the offending, but did not accept his counsel’s submission that the offending was at the lower end of the scale.

“Theft of guns from farms has become a more prevalent offence and, while the firearms are secured in gun safes, their isolated location means that such offending is offending on a soft target,” Judge Carmody said.

Judge Carmody said he believed Benkic’s prospects of rehabilitation were good if he was able to control his addiction to ice.

Benkic was sentenced to 21 months’ jail following by a two-year community corrections order to undergo drug and gambling rehabilitation treatment or assistance.

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