Sarah Crawford, 05 February 2016

A TRUCK driver whose petrol tanker crashed and exploded in a fireball that killed two people repeatedly said “my brakes failed” after he was pulled from the wreckage, a court heard yesterday.

But the Crown Prosecutor argued it was the driver’s failure to engage low gear down a hill that sent the tanker, laden with 34,000 litres of fuel, through a roundabout at 60km/h over the heavy vehicle­ speed limit and into a pole at Mona Vale on October 1, 2013.

Cootes truck driver Shane Anthony Day, now 49, pleaded not guilty in Downing District Court yesterday to two counts of dangerous driving occasioning death and one count of dangerous driving occasioning grievous bodily harm.

Crown Prosecutor Craig Patrick SC told the jury that although a police crash investigator found that the tanker’s brakes and axles were due to be replaced and “may have contributed to the crash”, it was ultimately Day’s failure to put his truck into low gear — despite­ a sign warning heavy vehicle drivers to do so — which led to the disaster.

Mr Patrick said the jury would hear the tanker was travelling at 87km/h when it went through the roundabout and hit a power pole. It then tipped on its side and it slid, hitting several cars.

“The collision led to a rupture of the tanker causing a large explosion and fireball,” Mr Patrick said.

“Burning fuel began leaking … and flowed down the road back towards the roundabout and … engulfed the impacted vehicles.”

While their wives were rescued, Peter Wem, 73, of Turramurra and his passenger Graham Holtfreter, 71, of Western Australia were trapped inside their burning car, eventually managing to crawl from a back window in flames only to die just metres away. Neil Donaldson escaped from another vehicle with horrific burns.

Mr Patrick told the jury that if Day had put the truck in a low gear as advised by the sign 2km before the roundabout it would have reached a maximum of just 25km/h on the descent.

“(The brakes) were not the cause of the collision rather it was the accused’s over-reliance on the primary brakes,” he said.

Defence barrister Grant Brady SC told the jury that only two of the 12 brakes on the prime mover and trailer were functioning properly and that “Cootes sent their employee out in a truck and trailer which were basically an accident waiting to happen”.

The trial continues.

Extracted in full from the Daily Telegraph.