Devastated friends of a young court clerk who was struck and killed by a car just days after her relationship with an elderly magistrate was exposed have been left reeling by her sudden and tragic death.
Ashleigh Petrie, 23, had been engaged to marry grandfather-of-eight Rod Higgins, 68, after a romantic trip to Fiji in September.
Ms Petrie was tragically killed early on Monday morning after a night out in country Victoria.
Her sudden death has shocked court staff, who have been offered counselling, while her friends and family – as well as strangers – have taken to her Facebook page in droves to express their condolences.
‘Sad, so very sad. Young life cut short. You obviously had a lot of support out there in this trying time. Pity they didn’t express their support sooner. Feel for her partner,’ one said. RIP.
Another wrote: ‘Ashleigh – I didn’t know you but heard about you in recent weeks. I am so sad, so devastated. My thoughts with your family and friends. I know the angels in Heaven will be giving you those special hugs.’
‘Tragic end. Poor girl. Sympathy to all her friends and family,’ a third said.
Ashleigh Petrie, 23, had been engaged to marry grandfather-of-eight Rod Higgins, 68, after a romantic trip to Fiji in September. She tragically died on Monday morning
Grandfather-of-eight Rod Higgins proposed to Ashleigh Petrie (pictured together), from Mirboo North in Victoria, during a romantic trip to Fiji in September
Her sudden death has shocked court staff, who have been offered counselling, while her friends and family – as well as strangers – have taken to her Facebook page in droves to express their condolences
The romance made headlines across the nation, prompting calls for the legal watchdog to investigate the propriety of the relationship.
Police confirmed a young woman was struck by a vehicle on Metung Road near Lakes Entrance in eastern Victoria about 1am on Monday morning.
Investigations are continuing.
A friend of the family, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told Daily Mail Australia Ms Petrie’s family was in deep shock.
The source said Ms Petrie’s family remained in the dark about what happened to her up to 13 hours after her death.
‘(They) were still trying to confirm if it was true or not,’ the source said.
The family is understood to be still struggling to come to terms as to how Ms Petrie ended up dead on Metung Road.
Chief Magistrate Peter Lauristen released a statement saying the thoughts of the court were were with Ms Petrie’s family.
‘It is with deep regret that we advise that an employee of the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria, Ashleigh Petrie, died as a result of an accident involving a motor vehicle early this morning,’ he wrote in a statement.
‘The details are still coming to hand. Our thoughts are with her family, friends and colleagues at this difficult time.
‘Judicial officers and staff are being supported, and appropriate counselling and support services are being provided. No further comment will be made at this time.’
Ms Petrie, who was understood to be on leave when her relationship was exposed by the Herald Sun earlier this month, posted a photo on Instagram yesterday of her enjoying a drink at the Metung Hotel.
Court staff across all jurisdictions are said to be devastated at the news of Ms Petrie’s untimely death.
Ashleigh Petrie’s last post on Instragram. She stated she had been in Metung – posting a peaceful photo of her view. She would be dead hours later.
Ms Petrie posted this photo on Instagram just days before here death
Latrobe Valley Magistrates’ Court, where the couple were based, cancelled hearings today as staff came to grips with the tragedy.
‘It’s rocked the court community. We’re all upset and staff have been offered counselling,’ one court staffer told Daily Mail Australia.
Ms Petrie had been under extreme pressure following news of her engagement to Mr Higgins, who uses the name Rod Rocketman on Facebook.
The court has been contacted for comment about Ms Petrie’s sudden death.
Victoria’s Attorney-General Jill Hennessy said their relationship did not break any rules – but shadow attorney-general Ed O’Donohue demanded an investigation into whether the couple’s relationship was appropriate given their respective roles with the court.
Shadow attorney-general Ed O’Donohue has demanded an investigation into Miss Petrie’s (pictured) relationship with Rod Higgins
Mr O’Donohue had written to the Judicial Commission of Victoria to request a probe into Mr Higgins.
According to the Herald Sun, he cited the relationship with Ms Petrie as a reason to investigate – even though the pair did not work together.
Before she started dating Mr Higgins, Miss Petrie reportedly had a brief relationship with another magistrate who was 59.
The fling lasted a little over a month before Miss Petrie officially started dating Mr Higgins earlier this year.
Miss Petrie admitted the relationship to the Herald Sun but refused to comment.
Ashleigh Petrie, said yes to grandfather-of-eight Rod Higgins (pictured together) when he proposed during a trip to Fiji last month
Miss Petrie is pictured with her current beau Mr Higgins who proposed to her last month after a whirlwind romance
Mr Higgins and Miss Petrie were living together in Mirboo North, four hours from Shepparton in northern Victoria.
Last month he whisked her away to Fiji where he popped the question.
The clerk excitedly accepted and called him ‘the love of her life’ in a gushing Facebook post where she showed off pictures of her sparkly new ring.
The relationship has been disclosed to Victoria’s chief magistrate Peter Lauritsen after many lawyers raised eyebrows at the unusual arrangement.
At the time, a spokesman for Mr Lauritsen said: ‘The Chief Magistrate has no comment on the personal lives of magistrates or staff.’
Love is in the air: A 68-year-old magistrate and a 23-year-old court clerk (pictured) are engaged
Last month and Mr Higgins proposed during a romantic holiday in Fiji. Pictured: The couple on holiday
Magistrate Rodney Higgins proposed to his girlfriend Ashleigh Petrie, 23, in September. She is pictured right and left with her ring
Miss Petrie announced her engagement to the father-of-three while still in Fiji.
‘What an amazing 10 days it has been here in Fiji! Firstly, I arrived as Rod’s girlfriend and I leave as rod fiancé! I cannot wait to become Mrs Higgins!’ she wrote online.
‘It started with a crush and now I have a ring on my finger. The love of my life asked me to marry him and I said YESSSS.’
‘I don’t know how I got so lucky to find such a sweet and caring man with the same sense of humour, this amazing man is the love of my life!’
During their trip, the pair went zip lining, met a Fijian tribe and swam in the sea together, according to their numerous social media posts.
A source told the Herald Sun that Ms Petrie and Mr Higgins had been trying for a baby.
The relationship has been disclosed to Victoria’s chief magistrate Peter Lauritsen after many lawyers raised eyebrows at the unusual arrangement. Pictured: The couple at the beach
Miss Petrie excitedly accepted and called him ‘the love of her life’ after he proposed. The couple is pictured together
Ms Petrie’s death came after a solicitor at the Coroner’s Court of Victoria took her life in September 2018.
WorkSafe launched a probe into the court’s allegedly ‘toxic culture’ in February.
Two magistrates had also taken their own lives in recent times: Stephen Myall killed himself in early 2018 while former magistrate Jacinta Dwyer took her life in October 2017.
‘Id be surprised of WorkSafe wasn’t going to look into it on the back of the coroners suicide and two magistrates,’ a source told Daily Mail Australia. ‘You start to think what’s it gonna take for something to be done and the culture to change.’
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