Record of Investigation Into Death (Without Hearing)

Coroners Act 1995
Coroners Rules 2006
Rule 11 

I, Christopher P Webster, Coroner, having investigated the death of : 

Cherry Gleeson 

WITHOUT HOLDING AN INQUEST

Find That : 

(a) Cherry Gleeson (Mrs Gleeson) died between the 13 and 15 February 2010 at the Star and Garter Hotel carpark, High Street, New Norfolk, Tasmania, aged 56 years. 

(b) Mrs Gleeson was born on 13 February 1954 in Campbell Town.  She was married with one daughter and was a disability pensioner at the time of her death. 

(c) Mrs Gleeson died as a result of probable hyperthermia (environmental heat exposure) due to entrapment in a car boot.  

Background : 

Mrs Gleeson was a married woman who lived with her husband, Mr David Gleeson, in New Norfolk in their family home.  Her daughter, Miss Brooke Gleeson, resided in her own home in New Norfolk.  Mrs Gleeson had worked as a receptionist until 1999 when she became a disability pensioner due to the cognitive effects of a brain aneurism she suffered during 1998. 

At the beginning of 1998 Mrs Gleeson suffered a subarachnoid haemorrhage which required a long admission to hospital with surgical intervention.  The neurosurgical proceedues left Mrs Gleeson with some cognitive impairment and, while able to still function, her judgement was  impaired.  She also developed anxiety attacks and was treated with ‘Alprazolam’ by her general practitioner, Dr Peters, in 2001.  Mrs Gleeson remained on this medication however it is not known whether she was taking her medication in the six months prior to her death. 

In 2006 Mrs Gleeson sought treatment from her GP for sensory disturbances effecting her fingers and feet. Further consultations led to a provisional diagnosis of peripheral neuropathy (damage to nerves of the peripheral nervous system) and revealed liver disease.  Mrs Gleeson admitted to consuming a bottle of wine three to four times a week.  

She was referred to a consultant physician, Dr Nightingale, who suggested her problems were related to excess alcohol intake while suffering alcoholic liver disease and peripheral neuropathy.  Doctors tried to emphasize the importance of abstinence from alcohol. 

From that time Mrs Gleeson consulted her GP on only four occasions, the last being in January 2010 for the Swine Flu vaccination.  Dr Peters noted that she seemed to be quite well during those visits.  He futher noted that Mrs Gleeson, in spite of the residual cognitive disability resulting from her neurosurgery, “managed to function reasonably well.  Her history of alcoholism, which we became aware of in 2006, aggravated her mental state.  When seen on the 20/01/2010 she presented quite well.  She was well dressed with no sign of personal neglect and seemed quite happy.” 

Mrs Gleeson generally had a good relationship with her husband, with difficulties occurring only when she was consuming alcohol.  Mr Gleeson had known her to usually consume wine and noted since her brain aneurism she consumed more alcohol.  He also noted a marked increase in her alcohol consumption after the death of her close friend in about 2007. Mrs Gleeson would ofter go to the Smith’s Hotel, New Norfolk, during the day where she met Mary Watt, who lived next to the Star and Garter Hotel, on High Street, New Norfolk. She would often stay away from home for days at a time.  She did not have a mobile phone and when she did not come home Mr Gleeson would often drive around New Norfolk looking for her.  He often located her vehicle parked in High Street outside the house next to the hotel or in the car park behind the pub.  Sometimes Ms Watt would contact Mr Gleeson and ask him to collect Mrs Gleeson, which he would do.  If she had consumed a large amount of alcohol, she would often not go home with him.  

Mr Gleeson would sleep in the spare room every couple of weeks for 3-4 days, whenever she stayed away for a few days or when she was drinking heavily.  He would get upset and angry with her alcohol consumption and that she stayed away from home but preferred to not speak with her about these issues when he felt like this as he did not want to argue with her.   

Circumstances Surrounding the Death :

 Just before 2:00pm on 13 February 2010, Mrs Gleeson went to the Star and Garter Bottleshop, at the rear of the hotel on High Street, New Norfolk.  She purchased two bottles of ‘Trevi Asti’ wine and, after speaking with the owner of the bottleshop, Ms Debbie Simpson, she left in her car.  When Ms Simpson closed the shop for the evening she noticed Mrs Gleeson’s car in the bottom corner of the hotel car park. Ms Simpson did not think this was unusual as she had noticed Mrs Gleeson often parked there when visiting Ms Watts and the vehicle would stay overnight if they had been drinking alcohol. 

About 2:00pm on 14 February 2010, Ms Simpson noticed Mrs Gleeson’s car was still parked in the same position.  Mrs Gleeson was noted not to go to the bottleshop that day and the car had not been moved by closing that evening. This was repeated the following day.      

Mr Gleeson last saw Mrs Gleeson during the late morning of 13 February 2010, which was her birthday.  They had a brief conversation and about 12:30pm he went the the Lachlan Fire Station to continue work he had been doing there.  He returned home later in the afternoon and no one was home.  During the evening he went into New Norfolk to buy dinner and when he saw Mrs Gleeson’s vehicle parked in the Star and Garter Hotel car park he thought nothing of it other than that she was with her friend, Ms Watt.  The following evening he again drove to New Norfolk and saw the car in the same location.  

Sunday 14 February 2010 was Mr and Mrs Gleeson’s wedding anniversary.  After originally planning to take Mrs Gleeson to Orford for the weekend he changed his mind as she had been away from home that week. He decided he did not want to stay home alone and went for a drive to Dunalley and returned through Richmond. He checked their joint bank account on returning to New Norfolk and found money had been withdrawn since he last checked it a few days previously.  He checked the hotel carpark again and on finding Mrs Gleeson’s car still parked there, used the spare key to check inside it.  He found nothing out of the ordinary. 

About 4:30pm on the 15 February 2010 Mr Gleeson again checked the hotel carpark for Mrs Gleeson’s car.  The vehicle was still in the same position and on opening the vehicle he noticed a smell that had not been there the previous day.  He opened the hatchback of the car and found Mrs Gleeson lying curled up, along with her handbag.  He unsuccessfully tried to wake her and immediately called for an ambulance, which arrived soon after, along with police.  Ambulance personnel confirmed Mrs Gleeson was deceased and police initially treated the area as a crime scene.  

An extensive police investigation followed which revealed, along with the results of a post mortem examination, there were no suspicious circumstances surrounding the tragic death of Mrs Gleeson.  There was no indication or history of self harm from Mrs Gleeson. 

One component of the police investigation was the examination of the hatchback door and the mechanism for closing and opening from the inside.  It was determined that the hatchback of the vehicle could be easily closed from the inside and also if the hatchback was closed to about a 40cm opening, the weight of the door would cause it to close shut.  Testing indicated that the hatch could be closed without locking and, more importantly, could be opened from the inside using a latch positioned on the locking mechanism which, once pushed, released the door. 

During the days Mrs Gleeson was missing the reported maximum temperatures were between 20 and 22 degrees on 14 February and 25-28 degrees on 15 February 2010.  Forensic testing of the inside temperature of Mrs Gleeson’s vehicle, with a maximum air temperature of about 23 degrees, revealed it to be at 38 degrees.  As Mrs Gleeson’s vehicle was in direct sunlight during the 15 February 2010, with a maximum day temperature at least five degrees higher, it can be concluded the temperature inside her vehicle on that day would have also been higher than that of the test day. 

It appears Mrs Gleeson has crawled into the boot/hatch section of her vehicle with the intention to sleep, knowing it could be opened from the inside.  After closing the hatchback, it is possible that sometime later she become disoriented in the dark and has been unable to locate the latch to open the hatchback door from the inside and gone to sleep.  

Tragically, Mrs Gleeson has died between the 13 and 14 February 2010 in the hatch of her vehicle, while it was parked in the hotel carpark of the Star and Garter Hotel, New Norfolk. 

A post mortem examination was conducted by Forensic Pathologist, Dr Donald Ritchey.  Dr Ritchey determined cause of death to be probable hyperthermia (environmental heat exposure) due to entrapment in a car boot.  He further stated a significant contributing factor was chronic alcoholism and perimortem ethanol intoxication.  

Findings and Comments :

I find that the police have conducted a thourough and comprehensive investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Mrs Gleeson. I am satisfied that the investigation did not reveal the involvement of any other person in this matter and that Mrs Gleeson died, in circumstances of her own creation, when secured in the rear of her vehicle. I do not believe that her actions at the time of so doing intended the fatal consequences that ensued. 

I agree with the conclusion reached by Dr Ritchey that Mrs Gleeson probably died as a result of heat exposure while entrapped in the rear of her vehicle. 

I convey my sincere condolences Mrs Gleeson’s family. 

DATED :   15  September 2011 at Hobart in the State of Tasmania

   

Christopher P Webster
CORONER