Fatal fall building under scrutiny
The safety measures at a Levin building where a man fell to his death have been examined by a Palmerston North coroner.
An inquest into the death of Mark David Nicholls, 54, of Levin, was held by coroner Tim Scott in Palmerston North yesterday.
Mr Nicholls suffered critical injuries when he fell from the roof of the Oxford Hotel in Levin on April 6, last year.
He was taken to Palmerston North Hospital but died the next day when his life support was turned off.
The court was told that on the day of his death Mr Nicholls picked his wife up from work and took her to their home at the Oxford Hotel, where they drank about three glasses of wine each.
They then went to the Fat Boys bar and drank multiple jugs of beer, before returning to the hotel and drinking more.
The couple had an argument, and Mr Nicholls went to their room.
CCTV footage showed him entering his room before heading to an outdoor walkway on the first storey of the hotel.
At 10.45pm, he fell from the walkway into the garden bar at the hotel, landing on his head.
The area where he fell had a barrier, which was 60 centimetres high.
Horowhenua District Council building advisory officer Murray Lougher told the court the usual practice was to have barrier's 1.1 metres high.
A barrier that high would have made a difference, he said.
"If he was just falling, it would be impossible to fall over a barrier that high."
Mr Lougher said a building inspector should have seen the barrier height and told the building owner and council it needed fixing.
Since Mr Nicholls' fall, the barrier height had been increased to above the 1.1 metre minimum.
Building compliance certifier David Yule's signature was on the last building warrant of fitness before the accident, carried out in May 2010.
But Mr Yule said he did not do the inspection.
Instead, a staff member at the business he worked at carried it out, and Mr Yule signed it off.
While the staff member had been attending seminars about building compliance, he was not fully qualified to do inspections, Mr Yule said.
The building had to be signed off by him, as a qualified person had to do it, he said.
Mr Scott asked Mr Yule what council staff would have thought when they saw his signature on the inspection.
"The council would assume I had done the inspection."
He said he had not gone out to deceive the council, but had just become too busy to do the inspection.
"I had faith in him to do the job, otherwise I wouldn't have sent him."
Mr Yule said if he had seen the barrier height, he would have told the building owner at the time - John Thwaites - that work needed to be done.
"I would have identified that there were fences that needed to be fixed."
A toxicology test done on Mr Nicholls after his death found he had 137 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood. The legal limit for driving is 80mg.
Detective Sergeant Marianne Whitfield said it was highly likely he would have had more alcohol in his system at the time of the fall, as his body would have processed it between the time of the fall and his death.
Mr Scott reserved his findings.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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