Record of Investigation into Death (Without Inquest)
Coroners Act 1995
Coroners Rules 2006
I, Michael Brett, Coroner, having investigated the death of Donna Sharee GUNN,
Find that :
(a) Donna Sharee Gunn died on or about the 13 April 2011 at Midland Highway at Ross;
(b) Ms Gunn was born in Victoria on the 03/02/1969 and was aged 42 year(s) at the time of her death;
(c) Ms Gunn died following a motor vehicle crash;
(d) the cause of her death was multiple blunt injuries.
Circumstances Surrounding the Death :
At the time of her death, Ms Gunn resided at Chigwell. She was in a relationship with Mr Scott Fairfield. She had been employed by Telstra Australia since November 1992.
At about 5-00am on the morning of the 13 April 2011, Ms Gunn left Hobart in order to travel to Launceston for the purpose of attending a team leader's meeting which had been arranged by her employer. She had received notice of the meeting on the 11 April 2011. She was driving a 2007 Ford Falcon station wagon registered number FO 5693 owned and operated by Telstra Australia. Her journey to Launceston was along the Midland Highway. She was travelling alone.
At approximately 6.05am that morning, Mr Phillip Shelton was driving a full laden Mack prime mover combination carrying a load of pine logs south on the Midland Highway. As he approached a right hand bend near the Mona Vale road junction, he estimates that he was travelling between 90 and 95km/hr. The bend was sweeping in nature. As Mr Shelton's vehicle emerged from the bend into a straight section of the Highway, the Ford Falcon being driven by Ms Gunn has collided with his vehicle in a head on collision. Mr Shelton's vehicle has over-ridden the Ford station wagon, crushing the engine bay and removing the right front and right rear passenger door. The roof has been detached from the right A pillar. The prime-mover's fuel tank has been ruptured and diesel fuel has flowed onto the road. The force of the impact has resulted in the tie down straps breaking, causing logs to be thrown across the road.
A post mortem conducted by Dr Ritchey (Pathologist) revealed that Ms Gunn died as a result of multiple blunt injuries following the motor vehicle crash. I am satisfied that she died instantaneously on impact.
A detailed examination of the scene of the crash was conducted by the crash investigation unit of Tasmania Police. Both vehicles were examined by a transport inspector, and there has been analysis of blood samples taken from Mr Shelton and Ms Gunn. Having regard to this evidence, I am satisfied of the following:
The collision occurred when Ms Gunn's vehicle crossed the centre line of the highway, directly into the path of travel of Mr Shelton's vehicle. This occurred very shortly before the collision. I am satisfied that Mr Shelton's vehicle was travelling correctly in the south bound lane and within the applicable speed limit at the time of the collision. I am also satisfied that although Mr Shelton saw the lights of the Ford instantaneously before the collision, the time interval between the Ford crossing into his path of travel and the collision was insufficient to allow him any or any adequate time to react.
The Prime Mover and trailers which constituted Mr Shelton's vehicle were roadworthy, and did not have any fault which might have contributed to the accident. Analysis of his blood did not detect the presence of alcohol or any other prescribed or illicit drug.
Ms Gunn's vehicle was also roadworthy, and again, there was no mechanical fault detected that may have contributed to the collision. Blood analysis did not detect the presence of alcohol, but did detect sub therapeutic levels of ibuprofen and paracetamol. These drugs are consistent with evidence that Ms Gunn had been suffering flu like symptoms at that time, and I am satisfied that they would not have impaired her capacity to properly drive and control the vehicle. She was wearing her seatbelt at the time of the collision.
It is impossible to determine with certainty the reason why Ms Gunn's vehicle has travelled onto the incorrect side of the road, into the path of the oncoming semi trailer. However, the following observations are relevant to this question:
There is no evidence to suggest that the collision occurred as a result of a deliberate decision by Ms Gunn. On the contrary, the evidence supports the conclusion that the collision was a tragic accident.
The nature of the highway at the relevant point, suggests that the vehicle has simply continued in a straight line rather than moving to the left with the direction of the road. This has brought the vehicle into the path of the semi trailer. As a deliberate decision of the driver or mechanical fault can be excluded as likely causes, the only remaining possibilities to explain the vehicle's movements, are driver inattention, or Ms Gunn has fallen asleep.
Driver inattention seems unlikely. Ms Gunn's mobile telephone was found in the centre console suggesting it was not being used at the time of collision. On the other hand, there is evidence which suggests that Ms Gunn was suffering from a greater level of fatigue than usual, at the time of this journey. Mr Fairfield states that Ms Gunn had been suffering from flu like symptoms, including a bad cough for about a week leading up to the accident. These symptoms had interfered with her sleep for some nights before the collision. The night before the trip, she had appeared to him to be very tired, and he had tried to convince her not to undertake the journey, but was unable to overcome her strong work ethic. She had risen at 4am in order to leave at 5am. There is no evidence that she had broken the journey prior to the collision, and it is unlikely that any roadside facilities would have been open at that time of the morning, in any event.
On the basis of this evidence, I agree with the opinions expressed by the experienced crash invetigators to the effect that the most likely explanation for the collision is that Ms Gunn has succumbed to the effects of fatigue and has fallen asleep shortly before the collision. This conclusion is also supported by the absence of any pre impact skid marks or any other evidence that the Ford braked prior to collision.
Comments & Recommendations :
An Inquest is not necessary in this matter. The investigation has elicited sufficient information to satisfy the requirements of the relevant legislation.
This case is a tragic reminder of the serious danger posed by driver fatigue. Research indicates that driver fatigue accounts for a significant proportion of fatal and serious accidents. I suspect that it is common practice for many, perhaps the majority of drivers, to fight the effects of fatigue, either by simple resistance or attempting to relieve those effects by ineffective means eg. cold air, increasing the volume of the radio etc. The reality is that there is only one way to effectively deal with driver fatigue, and that is to ensure adequate sleep. However, I suspect also, that despite the public education efforts of road safety authorities, the causes, consequences and effective methods of dealing with driver fatigue are poorly understood in the community. I recommend that bodies responsible for road safety continue their efforts to educate the driving public in respect of this issue.
Before I conclude this matter, I wish to convey my sincere condolences to the family and loved ones of the deceased.
This matter is now concluded
DATED : 6 February 2012 at Devonport in the State of Tasmania.