Search for answers on man missing from pig hunting trip

Cheryl Goodenough |

Members of a pig hunting group may have been transporting cannabis to Darwin when a 27-year-old man went missing in Queensland’s remote southwest, an court has been told.

Jeremiah Rivers, known as Jayo, disappeared after the group set up camp near Noccundra in October 2021.

Mr Rivers and his “kinship brother” Joe Kantilla-Gaden were drinking beer and using methamphetamine during the drive with five others in two vehicles, from Balranald in NSW to the Northern Territory capital.

The group used a saw to cut a chain to get into Queensland with the state locked down due to COVID-19 border restrictions, Mr Kantilla-Gaden told the Coroners Court on Monday.

He was coming down from the drugs when he told Mr Rivers to rest after setting up camp at Wippo Creek, as they had been up for four days.

But his friend said he was “being like mum” or worrying too much, Mr Kantilla-Gaden told the court.

“I was like, fellow, if anything happens to you man, it’s going to come back to me and it’s going to come back 10 times harder.”

When he woke Mr Rivers was gone.

Mr Kantilla-Gaden said he sang out for his friend and followed tracks but could not find him.

The following day Mr Kantilla-Gaden and another member of the group saw police at Noccundra and were escorted to the border to return to NSW.

He told the officer about his missing friend but tried to protect the rest of the group because of fines for COVID-19 breaches.

The transfer of cannabis from Victoria to NT formed an integral part of one theory in relation to Mr Rivers’ disappearance, Coroner Donald MacKenzie said after discussions with legal representatives.

Mr Kantilla-Gaden said he was only informed about the transporting of the cannabis around the time Mr Rivers went missing.

“He was aware there was a transfer of a not insubstantial sum of cannabis from the NSW-Victorian border to the Northern Territory by some of the individuals involved in this trip,” Mr MacKenzie said.

The coroner said Mr Kantilla-Gaden’s statements about cannabis were made under the court’s protection and could not be used against him in a criminal trial.

A lawyer acting for Mr Rivers’ family asked Mr Kantilla-Gaden about his friend being very distressed the night before going missing.

Mr Rivers told a family member on the phone about a “punch-up” with Mr Kantilla-Gaden and that he needed help to get out of a situation, lawyer Stewart Levitt said.

“I suggest to you that this is what happened: that Jayo found out about the drugs and wanted out and you said you can’t get out of it.”

Mr Kantilla-Gaden replied that it was not true.

Asked about telling another family member different versions of how Mr Rivers disappeared, Mr Kantilla-Gaden said: “I was still high on the drugs.”

His theory about what occurred is that his friend just went for a walk and never returned.

Earlier proceedings heard Mr Rivers’ family arrived and identified a “spiritual calling” towards Wilson River at Noccundra, believing he was in the area.

Despite the extensive search, a forensic examination, police investigation, a missing persons campaign, use of cadaver dogs and at one stage information provided from a psychic medium, no sign of Mr Rivers or potential foul play was identified.

“It is suspected Jayo has passed,” counsel assisting Sarah Lio-Willie said earlier.

Family – who travelled from WA – hope to get answers during the five-day inquest hearing in Brisbane.

Not knowing where Mr Rivers is or having any closure hurt the family, friend Basil Althouse said outside court.

“We just want closure.”

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