Record of Investigation into Death  (Without Inquest)

Coroners Act 1995
Coroners Rules 2006
Rule 11

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

Russell Alfred MENNITZ

WITHOUT HOLDING AN INQUEST

Find :

(a) Russell Alfred Mennitz died on 4 June 2011 at 11.30 am on the Anthony Link Road in Queenstown, Tasmania, aged 74 years.

(b) Mr Mennitz was born in Queenstown, Tasmania on the 24 of July 1936. He was a retired chief purchasing officer and was widowed.

(c) Mr Mennitz died as a result of probable traumatic positional asphyxia following a motor vehicle crash.

Background :

Mr Mennitz was born in Queenstown, Tasmania. He was married to Gaye and three children were born to this relationship. Gaye passed away in 1994 and Mr Mennitz remained single after her death.

Mr Mennitz had served in the Australian Navy early in his career before working with the Mount Lyell Mine as a Chief Purchasing Officer. He retired in 1993-1994.

On retirement, Mr Mennitz was very community minded. He drove the Queenstown community bus for a number of years and also for the Red Cross. It appears that Mr Mennitz knew the roads of the West Coast well and was an experienced driver in all weather conditions.

Mr Mennitz had a significant medical history that included atherosclerotic coronary disease, chronic lymphoma and leukaemia.

Circumstances surrounding death :

On 3 of June 2011, Mr Mennitz and his daughter, Jodi Valk, enjoyed a trip to Strahan. Mr Mennitz was described as being in good spirits. Ms Valk was to fly home to Queensland the following day and they both stayed overnight in Wynyard to connect with an early morning flight.

In the early morning of 4 June 2011, Mr Mennitz drove his daughter to the airport. Mr Mennitz stated that he had not slept well and had a headache. He indicated that he was tired. Mrs Valk told her father to set his alarm on his mobile phone and have a sleep until 9.30am.

At around 9am, Mr Mennitz visited a close friend, Mr O'Neil, in Burnie and departed at around 10am. Mr O'Neil stated in an affidavit that Mr Mennitz eseemed a bit off, was quieter than usual and looked a bit greyf.

Mr Mennitz has commenced his drive back to Queenstown. The travelling time would be estimated at two (2) hours.

At 11.30am, Mr Mennitz was located deceased in his 2006 Hyundai Terracan four wheel drive on a straight section of the Anthony Link Road, Queenstown. The location of the crash was approximately 30 minutes away from his Queenstown residence.

The vehicle had sustained significant crush damage to the roof and drivers side door. Mr Mennitz was positioned in the driver's seat, his seat belt engage. It was noted that the vehicle's airbags had not deployed. The speed limit was 100km/h and the prevailing weather at the time of the crash was cold and windy. The road was mostly dry.

Investigations revealed Mr Mennitz's vehicle had been travelling south towards Queenstown well within the speed limit. The evidence shows that Mr Mennitz's vehicle has left the road and travelled some twenty (20) metres off road before impacting heavily with an embankment, rolling and coming to rest upside down in a ditch. A trail of debris followed the vehicle. There were no brake or skid marks on the road surface. The scene indicated that no other vehicles had been involved in the accident as there were no damage traces or secondary tyre and wheel marks present.

A subsequent inspection of the vehicle by Crash Investigation Services and Transport Inspectors concluded that there was no vehicle fault that caused or contributed to the crash.

A post mortem examination was conducted for Forensic Pathologist, Dr Don Ritchey. He determined the cause of Mr Mennitzfs death was probable traumatic positional asphyxia following a motor vehicle crash. Significant contributing factors were severe atherosclerotic coronary vascular disease, obesity and chronic lymphoma.

Dr Ritchey reported the following opinion:

"…Mr Mennitz has likely died of asphyxia that resulted from the combined effects of compression by the roof of the overturned car and an expanding haematoma in the neck caused by a fracture of the cervical spinal column. Although the possibility that a natural event preceded the crash cannot be excluded; I believe this death is best described as accidental in manner..."

Toxicology of a post mortem blood sample revealed 'paracetamol 6mg/L2 : therapeutic; warfarin 0.7 mg/L : sub-therapeutic'. Paracetamol or Warfarin would not generally be expected impair driving ability or performance.

Conclusion:

I am satisfied, as detailed above, that vehicle defects, driving experience, weather and road conditions and any suggestion of untoward driving behaviour can be eliminated as contributors or causes for Mr Mennitz's vehicle leaving the road.

Mr Mennitz had a significant medical history and I concur with Dr Ritchey's opinion that there was a possibility that Mr Mennitz had an unexplained natural event whilst driving that contributed to the crash. In my view, based on the evidence supplied, fatigue must also be considered as a possible contributing factor. Accordingly, I find that there was an involuntary loss of control over the vehicle leading to the ultimate crash.

Mr Mennitz died as a result of probable traumatic positional asphyxia following a single motor vehicle crash resulting from impact damage and associated injuries.

I convey my sincere condolences to Mr Mennitz's family.

DATED: 15 December 2011 at Hobart in Tasmania.

Christopher Webster
CORONER