Truck's brakes 'excessively worn'

SARAH-JANE O'CONNOR
Last updated 16:11 20/05/2014

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A truck driver's brakes failed before he plummeted off the Otira Gorge near Arthur's Pass in the South Island, a coroner's inquest has heard.

Napier man Piki Lewis Jones, 34, died in the June 22, 2011, accident.

Senior Constable Simon Burbery, of the serious crash unit, said the brakes ''simply weren't working properly'' when Jones needed them to avoid the accident. In his report of the accident, Burbery said the truck had several ''excessively worn brake linings''.

Jones lost control and hit another truck from behind before falling over a steep slope above the Otira River. He died at the scene.

A month before, on May 20, his truck had been serviced by Intertruck Distributors. One of the mechanics, John Mulder, told the inquest today that the service included checking fluid levels, tyres and brakes.

At the time, Mulder noted that the brakes on the third and fourth axles would need ''relining'' before the truck passed a Certificate of Fitness (COF) test.

The truck's COF label had faded, and the mechanics at Intertruck thought it was due on June 3 - two weeks after the service. The COF was actually due on June 30 and the truck had not been returned for the work at the time of the accident. Between the May 20 service and June 22, the truck had driven more than 11,000 km.

Mulder said the truck was still safe to drive after the servicing, but that he ''was hoping as soon as the truck was available'' the required work would be done.

On Monday, the inquest heard from several truck drivers who said correct gearing was necessary to tackle the steep roads through Otira with minimal braking required.

Burbery said the gear box was too badly damaged from the accident to conclude whether Jones was in the correct gearing for the steep decline.

Jones was a ''floater'' driver for STL, so though he did not drive between Christchurch and Greymouth frequently - he was experienced in driving roads around New Zealand.

An autopsy showed that Jones had cannabis in his system. He also had evidence of a heart condition for which he had apparently been self-medicating.

On Monday the inquest heard that Jones had falsified his logbooks. STL was not prosecuted over the logbooks, Senior Constable Edwin Bell said.

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