19 February 2016

A Sydney truck driver involved in a fiery crash that killed two people has been found not guilty of dangerous driving charges.

Shane Day was behind the wheel when the Cootes petrol tanker he was driving rolled, hit several cars and then burst into flames at Mona Vale in 2013.

Two men, Peter Wem and Graham Holtfreter, died in the explosion.

At his trial, the District Court heard Mr Day was to blame for the crash because he failed to slow down and use a low gear on a steep descent.

On Friday afternoon, the jury acquitted Mr Day on two counts of dangerous driving occasioning death and one count of dangerous driving occasioning grievous bodily harm.

He had pleaded not guilty.

Mr Day’s lawyer Dennis Miralis said his client was very relieved by the verdict.

“He’s been under an enormous amount of stress since he’s been charged and obviously this has taken a big emotional toll on him,” he said.

“He’s looking forward to putting this behind him.

“What occurred was clearly a tragic incident, the jury verdict, however, made it clear that his driving, which was alleged to be dangerous, did not cause the accident but defective brakes were responsible for what occurred.

“The evidence as it came out in the course of the trial made it abundantly clear that Cootes had not properly checked the brakes on his truck.”

Crown prosecutors alleged Mr Day inappropriately relied on his primary brake, or his footbrake, losing control as result, and striking a power pole.

The tanker he was driving was carrying 34,000 litres of fuel when it exploded, engulfing a vehicle which had been struck.

Although Mr Wem and Mr Holtfreter freed themselves from the car they were in, they could not escape the fire.

Mr Day’s defence barrister, Grant Brady SC, said truck company Cootes was to blame, not Mr Day himself.

Mr Brady said the truck and trailer “were basically an accident waiting to happen”.

“They sent him out in a truck and trailer where 10 of the 12 brakes were faulty,” he said.

This truck was an accident waiting to happen and should never have been on the road to begin with.

Shane Day’s lawyer Dennis Miralis

Mr Mirales said the court heard evidence from a number of experts including from NSW Police, as well as from the Roads and Maritime Services.

“They were all unanimous in expressing an opinion that this truck was an accident waiting to happen and should never have been on the road to begin with,” Mr Mirales said.

He said he hoped the case would result in more companies being held responsible for deaths or injuries that happen on their watch.

“I hope that the approach adopted by the Government to looking at where fault lies becomes much more broader than simply criminalising the conduct of the driver and starts taking into account whether or not corporate responsibility also ought to be properly accounted for in the criminal justice system,” Mr Miralis said.

Cootes declined to comment on the outcome of the court case, with a spokesman telling the ABC the company believed it would be inappropriate to do so.

Cootes fleet found unsafe in two states

Following the accident, Cootes was fined $50,000 for serious defects in its fleet after VicRoads began investigating the company’s Victorian fleet.

It found 67 serious defects.

A Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) spokeswoman said the organisation would not comment on the court matter.

She said the RMS carried out a road worthiness inspection of the Cootes fleet of vehicles in 2013, which revealed significant maintenance failures.

“The improvement notice directed Cootes to implement practices and systems to ensure the fleet of vehicles was safe to travel on NSW roads and to put in place assurance systems to comply with NSW transport laws,” she said.

“Further inspections revealed roadworthiness was still a major problem.

“Cootes provided progress reports each month for 12 months with a 22-point action plan to enable full compliance of its fleet.”

In 2014, Cootes advised the RMS safe systems were implemented within the organisation to satisfy the improvement notice.

“RMS determined all requirements of the improvement notice were satisfied during periodic vehicle inspections, with a major improvement in the roadworthiness of the fleet after the successful implementation and application of systems to improve the safety of its fleet of vehicles,” the company said.

She said a further inspection of 16 vehicles at the RMS Wetherill Park heavy vehicle inspection facility in July 2015 found the vehicles passed a rigorous detailed inspection with no defects found.

Extracted in full from ABC News.