AN INQUEST into the death of two truck drivers who died in a head-on crash has heard of the catastrophic scene in the wake of the impact, which buried one of the wrecks.
Coroner Michael Holmes is examining the deaths of Christopher Phillip Jeffery, 58, and David Anthony Hicks, 41, who were killed instantly in the 2016 crash, 15km north of Uralla.
Witnesses took the stand on day two of the inquest in Armidale Coroner’s Court to detail their observations of the scene of the collision, which occurred about 1.30pm on June 14, 2016, on Thunderbolts Way at Scrubby Gully.
“Both vehicles suffered catastrophic damage. The contents of the trailers and wreckage from the vehicles was scattered in the surrounding area,” counsel assisting Christopher McGorey said in his opening address.
“The impact caused the fuel tanks to rupture, which ignited causing a substantial fire at the scene causing extreme heat which was subsequently extinguished.”
Mr McGorey said the inquest would hear of “the challenging nature of the scene” by investigators.
The force of the impact caused both vehicles to become somewhat entangled and it was difficult to assign parts to corresponding vehicles and trailers.- counsel assisting Christopher McGorey
“Amongst other matters he describes the difficulty he had walking around the location of the collision owing to it being knee-deep in grain and cattle remains,” he said.
“The force of the impact caused both vehicles to become somewhat entangled and it was difficult to assign parts to corresponding vehicles and trailers.”
Much of the grain from both trailers of Mr Jeffery’s B-double had spilled, burying portions of his truck.
He said Mr Jeffery’s prime mover was extensively covered in grain, with little more than the rear wheels of the prime mover visible.
Emergency services at the scene were required to remove a large amount of grain to expose it – a task that continued past 11pm.
The inquest is examining whether specialist crash investigators should be mandatorily required to attend serious heavy vehicle accidents.
Two crash investigation experts, who are giving evidence at the inquest, have made the recommendation to coroner Holmes.
On the day of the crash, senior officers from New England police and the then-Superintendent determined that crash investigators would not be called, because both drivers had died.
The inquest would also detail the police investigation into the incident, as well the security at the Guyra holding yard, where the wrecks were taken.
The clear inference is the resident’s dog accessed the police yard and located those remains in the wreckage of the truck.- Counsel assisting Christopher McGorey
On July 14, 2016, a resident nearby the police yard “found her dog with a human foot within a work boot and sock”.
“Those remains were determined to belong to [Mr] Jeffery,” Mr McGorey said.
“The clear inference is the resident’s dog accessed the police yard and located those remains in the wreckage of the truck.”
Mr McGorey said a detective was then alerted and viewed the wreckage at the yard.
“She observed a large amount of grain within the vehicle. Another work boot was located encased within the wreckage,” he said in his opening address.
The crash occurred about 1.30pm on June 14, 2016, on a straight stretch of two-lane, tarred road on Thunderbolts Way at Scrubby Gully.
The road was in good condition and the weather was fine. The speed limit was 100km per hour.
Mr Jeffery was behind the wheel of a Kenworth prime mover with two carriages attached containing grain, and was headed south-east.
Mr Hicks was driving a Volvo prime mover with 26 head of cattle on board, going north-west.
Specialist reconstruction analysis by crime scene police was carried out, as part of the brief of evidence into the crash.
“Hicks’ Volvo truck underwent a significant change in direction over a short period immediately prior to the collision onset, moving from its lane into the lane of Jeffery’s Kenworth truck,” Mr McGorey told the inquest in his address.
“The orientation of Hicks’ Volvo at impact indicates something caused it to turn significantly to the right, immediately before the vehicles collided, with part of Hicks’ Volvo leaving the sealed road surface prior to impact.”
Both drivers were “well experienced in the operation of heavy vehicles”, Mr McGorey said.
The inquest was told Mr Hicks started his day at 7am and “connected the trailer to the Volvo truck and carried out checks”, leaving a property at Nowendoc to head to Bindaree Beef Abattoirs in Inverell to deliver the cattle.
Mr Jeffery woke at 6am to attend work, leaving Warialda to travel to Graincorp in Moree, where he left about 9.45am, bound for Walcha.
Two witnesses, Mr McGorey said, told investigators they “reported seeing a sudden deviation by Hicks’ Volvo truck into Jeffery’s lane”.
None of these witnesses reported seeing anything on the road immediately prior to the collision which might account for Hicks’ sudden deviation, Mr McGorey said.
Evidence to be presented during the inquest by two crash experts, Mr McGorey said, would show no telephone or mechanical issues contributed to the crash.
“It is anticipated their view is that the condition of either truck or trailer is unlikely to have contributed to the collision in any obvious sense, such as in one of the trucks being in an unroadworthy condition or with obvious defects,” he said.
Investigations also showed no calls or text messages were made or received about the time of the crash on Mr Hick’s phone.
The inquest continues.
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