A Newcastle man who died in a hit-and-run on New Year’s Day was allegedly run down by the car he lent to a neighbour.
Giovanni Varagnolo, 54, is being remembered as a “beautiful man” who may not have had a lot but “gave everything”, including his prized Holden Statesman that police understand had been lent out to various neighbours.
The tragic start to the New Year comes as police charge Mr Varagnolo’s 44-year-old neighbour over the hit-and-run death.
The man, who was granted conditional bail, will face a string of serious driving offences in Newcastle Local Court later this month.
Police allege he was driving the Statesman west on Railway Road when he struck Mr Varagnolo at the Wickham Road intersection shortly before 3am on New Year’s Day.
The man is accused of dangerous driving occasioning death and failing to stop.
Mr Varagnolo, who was walking home after celebrating the New Year, suffered critical injuries and died in John Hunter Hospital.
The Statesman was seen parked with a smashed windscreen outside Mr Varagnolo’s Chiplin Street home the next day.
It was towed away by crash investigators as police arrested the 44-year-old at a nearby address, taking him to Waratah police station where he was later charged.
Neighbour and friend Michelle Champion described the tragedy as “horrible” and struggled to understand how it could happen.
The pair had come to know each other through a mutual interest in gardening.
“He used to call me his little garden gnome,” Ms Champion said.
“Every time you saw him, he had a smile on his face … he was the happiest man in the world.
“He was a beautiful man.
“He wished me a happy New Year and that was the last time we saw each other.”
Ms Champion said Mr Varagnolo was well-liked in the street and a familiar face at the club, Wests New Lambton.
“He had nothing, but he gave everything,” she said. “He was a good man. He helped everyone.”
Another neighbour said: “We’re still in shock. We wish we knew what happened.
“He was friendly man, polite – we used to talk about cars. It’s so sad.”
Senior police said they were “bitterly disappointed” with drivers after 28 deaths – including two from Newcastle – on the state’s roads in less than three weeks.
“It is poor decisions that are killing people on our roads and it’s not just the person making poor decisions that are dying, they are often taking innocent people with them,” Deputy Commissioner Catherine Burn said on Tuesday.