Firm fined after deadly Kaimai crash

BELINDA FEEK
Last updated 10:48 22/05/2014
 Athol Bree
Supplied
SORELY MISSED: Athol Bree died after his truck crashed and rolled down a steep bank on the Kaimai Ranges in 2012.

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A failure to maintain the brakes on a truck that crashed, killing its driver, has landed an Otorohanga company a large fine and its owner a conviction under the Health and Safety in Employment Act.

River Run Products Ltd, which specialises in dry mining alongside the Waipa River, east of Otorohanga, was in March fined $49,598.96 while its owner, Brian Leslie Withers, was ordered to pay $50,000 reparation to the widow of driver Athol Ian Bree.

Bree died after the River Run Products truck he was driving rolled, crashed through a barrier on the Kaimai Ranges on April 11, 2012 before dropping several metres down a steep bank.

The crash was so destructive the truck's trailer unit was ripped off the vehicle's body and came to rest about 20m down a bank. The truck's cab was badly crushed.

Although WorkSafe NZ decided not to prosecute, police commercial vehicle investigation unit officers used their new powers to launch proceedings against River Run.

Judge David Ruth relied on several experts to deliver his guilty verdict and issue sentencing.

Two experts, including VTNZ vehicle inspector John Holderness, gave evidence on the poor condition of the brakes. They said the push rod's degree of travel was well outside the manufacturer's recommended outer limits.

In his sentencing, the judge agreed and said the condition of the brakes "is in my judgment indicative of a real failure on the part of the defendants.

"The reason why excessive push rod travel is so significant in this case is that it results in a longer timeframe for the braking system to recover air . . . to return the brakes to full capacity."

The judge found that the brakes not operating at full capacity would have contributed to a "runaway" scenario with the truck not being able to stop.

The condition of the tyres was also unsatisfactory. The judge said while the left front tyre was compliant with certificate of fitness requirements it "was only marginally so".

However, post crash the right tyre was "almost devoid of rubber with the metal banding showing through".

The judge said while it was "logical" to accept some damage occurred during the crash it was still "clearly well below standard".

Giving evidence, Withers said they had bought replacement tyres and instructed Bree to change them.

The judge said while it could not be said the state of the truck caused the crash, the combination of features was "certainly contributory".

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After pleading guilty, Withers applied for a discharge without conviction.

In his decision on that, the judge said although Withers was an active member of his community, had suffered physically and mentally after Bree's loss and was concerned about the "stigmatism" of having been in some way responsible for his death, the conviction would not be enough for the company to cease trading or Withers' involvement in it. But, as the level of penalty was an issue "that weighs with me", the judge handed down a conviction and discharge.

River Run Products was also convicted and fined $49,598.96. Fairfax NZ

- Waikato Times

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