A South Australian community was rocked yesterday following news a 13-year-old boy had been killed after a bin he and two friends were sleeping in was picked up by a garbage truck.
Questions immediately emerged about how the boys came to be inside the bin, with new information shedding more light on the tragic incident.
Spencer Benbolt Junior, 13, was asleep in an industrial bin in Port Lincoln early on Tuesday with two other boys – aged 11 and 12 – when it started being emptied during a scheduled collection.
As the bin was lifted, one boy managed to escape injury by jumping out, but the other two children became trapped.
The 12-year-old boy who escaped immediately began banging on the door to alert the driver, with emergency services called to the Reoco car park just after 5.20am.
Spencer suffered serious injuries and, despite the efforts of paramedics to save him, died at the scene.
The other boy was unharmed despite also being thrown into the truck.
Hours before the tragic incident, the group of boys had been wandering the town for hours before crawling into the industrial bin to escape the rain and cold, locals told the Daily Mail.
The publication claims the trio stopped off at the nearby Grand Tasma Hotel to ask for water at about 12.30am, with the boys making it clear to some of the locals that they spoke to that they didn’t plan on going home that night.
The group made their way to Port Lincoln’s industrial area where they reportedly tried to seek shelter at a McDonald’s before deciding to crawl into the industrial bin for the night.
Boys were not homeless and had ‘beds they could sleep in’
South Coast Local Service Area officer in charge Paul Bahr told reporters yesterday that the boys were not classified as homeless and had “places to stay … with beds they could sleep in”.
“We’re not aware of any reports of children sleeping in bins in Port Lincoln. This is the first time we’ve become aware of it,” he said.
“Port Lincoln has an issue with homelessness like every community and from time to time we do get rough sleepers (but) I’m not aware of children sleeping rough.”
The Department of Child Protection said the boy was not in state care. A coronial investigation into the tragedy has been launched.
On Tuesday Spencer’s aunty read out a statement to Nine on behalf of the family.
“Spencer always had a close relationship with his parents, brothers and grandmothers, who he loved and adored,” she read.
“He loved hunting, fishing, camping, was a cheeky boy who had a big imagination.”
It is believed Spencer, known as Budda to his friends and family, had been staying with friends recently.
One of Spencer’s friends, Holly Puckridge, told 7News he had asked to “stay with us for a couple of days and we let him sleep over”.
Mother Jess Bettoncelli said her 12-year-old son often hung out with the group and with join them in sleeping outside services stations and at local sporting grounds.
“He’s very shaken up, he’s I think confused,” she told the outlet.
“He’s I guess wondering and suspecting that that could have been him last night.”
Friends ‘traumatised’ by Spencer’s death
Superintendent Bahr said the two other boys involved in the incident have been “traumatised” by what happened, making it difficult to get specific details from them.
“The background as to how they’ve ended up in this industrial bin is something that’s really going to take some time to understand,” he said.
“It will be a strong part of the coronial investigation that we’ve begun.”
The truck driver, who was not aware the boys were inside the bin when he picked it up, was reportedly “extremely shaken” by the incident.
Superintendent Bahr also said it was a “terrible event” for the first responders and the community.
“Dealing with a young child who is suffering significant trauma and not being able to save their life after a lot of effort has gone into attempting to revive him is going to be very difficult to them,” he said.
Tributes flowing in from the community
Spencer’s cousin, Montanah Elvey, described the boy as a “really good kid”, telling the Daily Mail he had been through a lot in his life but always had a smile on his face.
“He was brave, tough. He’s been through a lot of s**t and he is a very strong child,” she said.
In a statement, Eyre Peninsula education director Rowena Fox, said the “tragic” event had impacted the boy’s school and the wider community.
“Our thoughts and condolences go out to the child’s family and friends,” Ms Fox said.
“Staff and students are today dealing with a sense of enormous sadness and shock.
“The immediate priority is arranging counselling and psychological support.”
Ms Fox said local schools were arranging wellbeing support for students, with families also encouraged to contact the school if they think their child could use individual support.
“This is very upsetting news and children will likely process it in different ways,” she said.
Port Lincoln Mayor Brad Flaherty said Spencer’s death was “very, very sad” and would have a “significant impact” on the community, which had bee left “shocked” by the news.
“Port Lincoln has a very strong community and will stand behind the families involved,” he told NCA NewsWire.
“Our thoughts go out to the families, friends and colleagues involved in the situation.
“We’ve got to be resilient and make sure we’re there for the people involved.”