Crash victims 'had nowhere to go'
Two Spanish tourists who were killed when an oncoming truck lost control and jack-knifed across the road "had nowhere to go", a coroner has found.
Joan Roma-Serra and Eva Fajula-Rovira, both 34, suffered fatal injuries when a heavy truck crashed into the campervan they were travelling in near the Bay of Islands.
Coroner H Brandt Shortland released his findings into the December 2009 crash today, saying the deaths were "unnecessary".
The pair had been travelling through New Zealand over three weeks in December that year. They died just two days before they were scheduled to arrive back in Spain to be with their families on Christmas Eve.
They had spent most of their holiday in the South Island, but wanted to see some of the north before they left. Rather than spend their last few days in Auckland, the pair decided to drive a campervan to the Bay of Islands. They never made it.
As they were driving up the Waiomio Hill, south of Paihia, a Linfox truck driver, Ioane Etuale, was coming down the hill about 80-95kmh.
Travelling behind the tourists was another vehicle being driven by mother, Lisa Berger, with her baby son strapped in a child seat.
The report found "crocodile cracks" on the road made it difficult at times to negotiate, but "common sense" was all that was needed to get across them.
The truck lost control, causing it to jack-knife and to crash head-on into the Toyota campervan that Roma-Serra was driving.
"The jack-knifing trailer has swung around and [also] hit Lisa Berger's vehicle who was trying to take evasive action in the circumstances.
"With respect to the Toyota campervan driven by Joan [Roma-Serra] and Eva [Fajula-Rovira], there were no other defensive driving option available. They had nowhere to go."
Both tourists died at the scene and Berger's two and a half-year-old son Ryan was taken to hospital with serious injuries that still required treatment.
Charges were laid against Etuale, but questions over the mechanical soundness of the truck delayed the pair's inquest.
No mechanical faults were found.
The coroner said the road they were travelling on was in need of repair, "as truck drivers had reported a number of ruts and corrugations that were both physically visible and potentially a genuine hazard when driving a truck over it".
Etuale did not attend the inquest, although a summons had been prepared. Police could not find him to serve it on him.
In a signed police statement directly after the crash, Etuale described what happened in the moments before the crash.
"The brakes engaged but the brakes did not lock up. They were working but the truck just kept going, it seemed like it was slipping."
Etuale thought there may have been oil on the road.
Traffic and safety engineer David Spoonley said the area with the crocodile cracking - a common type of distress in asphalt roads - was a low priority, and many drivers could negotiate it without difficulty.
In the police report, Senior Constable Warren Bunn said alcohol and speed were not factors in the crash, but Roma-Serra and Fajula-Rovira were in the "wrong place at the wrong time".
The coroner said "if common sense was applied at the time, in terms of driving with extra care, then there was no reason why a truck could not deal with the challenge appropriately."
"The impact of [the victims'] deaths on their respective families have been clearly conveyed to this court both in terms of emotional and psychological loss.
"These were unnecessary deaths. They could not have avoided this unfolding situation as their options to take evasive action were zero."
- © Fairfax NZ News