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No answer in truck death

JIMMY ELLINGHAM
Last updated 12:00 27/02/2013

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A coroner says he may not be able to give a definitive answer about why a truck driver crashed into the Rangitikei River on his way home from a long day at work.

Richard Toneycliffe, of Taihape, died on May 14 last year when his truck failed to take a corner on the Napier-Taihape Rd and plunged into the river.

The crash happened around the Springvale area, about 50 kilometres from Taihape.

Coroner Tim Scott reserved his decision about the death after an inquest in Palmerston North yesterday.

He said he might be unable to rule on the exact cause of death, with either brake failure or Mr Toneycliffe briefly falling asleep seen as possible contributing factors.

It was also possible that Mr Toneycliffe, a diabetic, had some sort of "episode", although that seemed unlikely.

"It seems that there are a number of issues here that really are a bit of a mystery," Mr Scott said.

The inquest heard that Mr Toneycliffe left home about 7am and would have started work about half an hour later.

His work took him to Halcombe to collect silage bales that he dropped off in Hawke's Bay, before he arrived at Webster's lime works near Havelock North to pick up a load.

It is unclear when he left, with different witnesses saying it could have been between about 5.30 and 6.40pm.

It is also unclear how much the load and truck weighed, with one weigh-in putting the figure at 47 tonnes - over the 44-tonne limit - and another putting it under.

Mr Scott said he was not convinced this was an important point and the reasons why the loads were recorded differently on different forms was unclear.

Just after 7pm Mr Toneycliffe filled up his truck with fuel and rang his partner, Deborah McNabb, to say he would be home in about three hours.

If he started work at 7.30am, Mr Toneycliffe was required by law to clock off by 9.30pm.

But he never made it. A witness near the crash scene reported hearing a loud bang about 10pm.

Crash investigator police Senior Constable Greg Stone said conditions that night were bad and the road was wet.

A proper examination of the truck's brakes could not be undertaken as the salvage crew had adjusted them.

Tyre marks on the road indicated that on a 200-metre straight before the fatal left-hand bend after a long and winding descent, the truck had crossed the centre-line then corrected again before it went over the bank.

"The tyre marks indicate that the truck was sideways when it left the road," Mr Stone said.

In his opinion the most likely scenario for what happened was that the truck's brakes were "totally out of adjustment". "There's no evidence of any hard braking or emergency braking at the scene."

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Mr Toneycliffe worked for Farmers Transport, which has a policy of adjusting trucks' brakes every 5000 kilometres.

Although Mr Toneycliffe's truck had travelled 5700km since its last adjustment, Mr Scott said this was not an important point as different companies checked brakes at different times. The company had a good reputation for its truck maintenance.

Farmers Transport also had a mechanic that could have looked at the truck any time if there were any problems.

Ms McNabb said she had been in a relationship with Mr Toneycliffe for about 3 years.

- Manawatu Standard

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