Drug overdose suspected after man's body found on back seat of car

It is still a few hours before dawn when two police officers first see the silver Toyota Camry "being driven erratically" straight past Waratah police station.

They pull out of the station's driveway and tail the car onto nearby Griffiths Road, in the Newcastle suburb of Lambton, before they turn on their lights and sirens and the Camry is calmly pulled over without incident.

Inside is the driver, 52-year-old Rodney Clarke, a former Taree man who has never held a licence and is wanted on warrants.

But it is the dark figure behind Mr Clarke that attracts the attention of the officers.

Lying motionless across the back seat is another 52-year-old former Taree man, who they are told is sleeping.

But he is cold and not breathing and is quickly pronounced dead at the scene.

Police set up a crime scene after finding the body of a man in the back seat of a car in Newcastle. Photo: Simon McCarthy

Police set up a crime scene after finding the body of a man in the back seat of a car in Newcastle. Photo: Simon McCarthy

Mr Clarke is arrested and taken back to Waratah police station for questioning as a crime scene is established on the side of the busy arterial road about eight kilometres from the Newcastle central business district.

It is 3.15am and detectives are called in as a significant investigation is launched into the bizarre circumstances surrounding the man's death.

There are no visible marks on the man's body but the homicide squad is informed.

Within hours, and as forensic police continue to scour the scene for clues, it emerges the dead man may have succumbed to a drug overdose.

Detectives are told the man, a known heroin user, had taken a hit early on Sunday night before telling his friend he was going to sleep it off in the Camry.

They are still investigating how long the car remained at Hamilton railway station before Mr Clarke is alleged to have got back behind the wheel and began driving around several suburbs looking for somewhere to buy food.

Police are told he still believed his friend was sleeping the heroin off when the officers pulled him over.

Police closed of Griffiths Road in Newcastle after finding the body. Photo: Simon McCarthy

Police closed of Griffiths Road in Newcastle after finding the body. Photo: Simon McCarthy

An autopsy is planned for Tuesday morning to confirm a cause of death, however police believe the man may have been dead for more than three hours before the vehicle stop.

Mr Clarke has not been charged over the apparent non-suspicious death, but he was refused bail for the outstanding warrants.

He faced Newcastle Local Court for allegedly failing to comply with reporting obligations (he was on bail to report to Waratah police station), having custody of a knife in a public place, assaulting police in the execution of their duty, resisting arrest and failing to appear in court.

Mr Clarke pleaded guilty to never holding a licence and was formally refused bail to reappear on Thursday.

Detectives are now preparing a report into the death for the coroner.

Newcastle Herald