‘Plea for help': Sydney residents rally around fugitive turned homeless handyman

Darko “Dougie” Desic was on the run for three decades after escaping from Grafton correctional centre in New South Wales in 1992.

© Provided by The Guardian Photograph: Joel Carrett/AAP

But the fugitive turned local handyman was forced to hand himself in this week due to the Covid pandemic.

He had survived off odd jobs around Avalon on Sydney’s northern beaches until the pandemic meant he was no longer able to find work. The 64-year-old became homeless, sleeping on the beach, before eventually walking into Dee Why police station on Sunday.

© Photograph: Joel Carrett/AAP File photo of Avalon beach. Darko ‘Dougie’ Desic was on the run for three decades, surviving on handyman work on Sydney’s northern beaches until the pandemic hit.

“He handed himself in to get a roof over his head,” a NSW police source told national newswire AAP. Now, Desic is receiving a groundswell of support from the Avalon community.

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Local Belle Higgins said her family and countless others were rallying behind Desic because they “could cry thinking of his circumstances”.

“He’s our handyman. He’s taught himself his own trade,” Higgins told Guardian Australia.

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“He’s built so many of our fences and driveways in Avalon. Most of us have a warm bed and a roof over our heads. Seeing someone get to the point where their only option is to turn themselves in, as a plea for help, means it must have gotten really bad.”

Higgins and her father, Peter Higgins, on Thursday launched a GoFundMe campaign Rebuilding A Life for Darko ‘Dougie’ Desic. In less than 24 hours, the campaign had raised $18,000 of its $30,000 goal.

Supported by more than 200 locals, it is raising funds for Desic to “obtain a criminal lawyer and get him back on his feet”. The page states “everybody deserves a second chance”.

Desic was jailed in 1990 for growing cannabis and served 19 months of a 33-month term until he allegedly escaped using bolt cutters. On Tuesday, he was remanded in custody after being charged with escaping from lawful custody.

He was due to enter a plea to the prison escape charge on 28 September. Desic was also expected to serve out the remainder of his original sentence with his earliest parole date being 1 November 2022.

A police source told News Corp Australia the Yugoslavian-born Desic claimed he broke out of jail because he feared once his sentence ended he would be deported to Yugoslavia and punished for skipping compulsory military service.

Higgins’ fundraising page says Desic had “helped our community … for 30 years and ended up homeless on our beach at Avalon. Never did he hurt anybody.”

Higgins, a practicing psychotherapist, said she “couldn’t imagine what he has been through in the past 30 years”. “He hasn’t been able to go to the doctor or have a stable relationship. He hasn’t had any family. He’s been here, alone, going through mental anguish,” she told the Guardian.

The concerned local said many people had offered Desic jobs, too. “I’ve seen so many people writing saying he’s got a job and roof over his head when he comes out of prison.”

Higgins said she hoped people could look past his past “and see the beautiful side to this story”. “It is not often we get to see a good person rehabilitated – to get a whole community around one person is what we should be doing.”

– with Australian Associated Press

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