RECORD OF INVESTIGATION INTO DEATH (WITHOUT PUBLIC INQUEST)
Coroners Act 1995
Coroners Rules 2006
I, Christopher P Webster, Coroner, have investigated the death of
ERIC ANDREW SZABO.
I have decided not to hold a public inquest hearing into his death because my investigations have sufficiently disclosed the identity of Mr Szabo, the time, place, cause of death, relevant circumstances concerning how the death occurred and the particulars needed to register the death under the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1999. I do not consider that the holding of a public inquest hearing would elicit any information further to that disclosed by the investigations conducted by me.
a) Eric Andrew Szabo (Mr Szabo) was born in Hobart on 7 April 1993. At the time of his death he was aged 18 years. He was a single man who was employed as an apprentice builder.
b) Mr Szabo died on 6 June 2011 at Richmond Road, Cambridge.
c) Mr Szabo died as a consequence of multiple injuries due to a two motor vehicle collision.
During the late afternoon of Monday 6 June 2011 Mr Szabo was in the company of two friends, Patrick John Briggs (Mr Briggs) and Matthew John Hutchinson (Mr Hutchinson).
All three travelled separately to Clifton Beach for an agreed task which involved the carriage of items back to Cold Blow Road, Richmond, the residence of Mr Briggs. Each returned to Richmond in separate motor vehicles with Mr Szabo driving his red Hyundai Excel, registered number EH-8078. They spent several hours at this residence and about 9.00pm all three left. Mr Szabo was alone and driving his vehicle while Mr Briggs was driving his vehicle, a green coloured Hyundai Excel, registered number EO ¨C 7279. Mr Briggs was accompanied by Mr Hutchinson. Mr Szabo intended returning to his home address in Howrah while Mr Briggs was considering staying at Mr Hutchinson's address in Oakdowns, or alternatively at an address in Geilston Bay.
Mr Szabo travelled along Richmond Road in a southerly direction towards Cambridge. At this time it was dark and the traffic flow was light. The speed limit on Richmond Road is 100km/h. Mr Briggs' vehicle was following Mr Szabo's at a constant distance and, on the information of Mr Briggs and Mr Hutchinson, at a speed of approximately 100km/hr.
At this time Maria Emma Steele (Mrs Steele) was driving a red Toyota Echo sedan, also in a southerly direction, on Richmond Road and following her husband, Wayne Steele (Mr Steele), who was driving a Nissan Pulsar sedan. Mrs Steele was following at a constant distance of approximately thirty metres and at a speed of approximately 77km/h.
On approaching an area known as the "Dulcot Straight" Ms Steele observed the headlights of a vehicle in her rear view mirror. This vehicle, driven by Mr Szabo, overtook her vehicle a short time later at the commencement of the straight and she believes the overtaking manoeuvre was completed on double white lines. She was unable to estimate the speed of the overtaking vehicle at the time other than to say she believed it was well over the speed limit.
Mr Szabo's vehicle has then overtaken Mr Steele's vehicle without returning to the correct side of the road. This overtaking manoeuvre was completed on a single intermittent white line and Mr Steele believes the speed of Mr Szabo's vehicle as it overtook him was approximately 120km/h. After overtaking Mr Steele's vehicle Mr Szabo's vehicle has remained in the middle of the road.
Soon after being overtaken by Mr Szabo's vehicle, Mrs Steele was overtaken by Mr Briggs' vehicle at the same time as Mr Szabo's vehicle's was overtaking her husband's car. She believes Mr Briggs vehicle was travelling at about the same speed as Mr Szabo's. Mr Briggs' vehicle then overtook Mr Steele's vehicle. Both overtaking manoeuvres on Mr Steele's vehicle were completed on a straight stretch of road where the headlights of any oncoming vehicles would have been clearly visible.
Soon after being overtaken both Mr and Mrs Steele have stopped their respective vehicles for approximately three minutes for an unrelated matter before continuing their journey and coming across the crash scene. Each believe the overtaking vehicles were travelling together and in their opinion were racing or chasing one another.
CIRCUMSTANCES OF CRASH:
At approximately 9.12pm Mr Szabo has still been travelling southbound on a straight section of Richmond Road in an area known as "Meadowbank". Mr Briggss' vehicle was still following Mr Szabo's vehicle and the speed of both vehicles, as indicated by Mr Briggs and Mr Hutchinson, was approximately 100km/h. This is the maximum permissible speed limit in this area.
Whilst travelling on this straight section of road Mr Szabo's vehicle has increased speed to approximately 130km/h while Mr Briggs has remained travelling at the speed limit. Mr Szabo's vehicle has been observed to commence to negotiate a large radius open right hand curve at the southern end of the straight. At this time Stephen John Brook (Mr Brook) was driving a 1990 white Volkswagen van, registered number FH-3852, in a northerly direction on Richmond Road. He was approaching the same curve as Mr Szabo, but from the opposite direction. There is no evidence to suggest he was travelling at a speed in excess of the permissible maximum limit.
It would appear Mr Szabo's vehicle has not reduced speed during the course of negotiating the curve and on exiting it the left hand rear wheel of the vehicle has entered onto the gravel verge on the eastern side of the road. Mr Szabo has attempted to correct this, but has over-corrected and his vehicle has commenced to rotate clockwise and move onto the incorrect side of the road. It is here that the passenger side of Mr Szabo's vehicle has collided with the front driver's side of the vehicle being driven, in the opposite direction, by Mr Brook. At this time the speed of Mr Szabo's vehicle was 129km/h. Mr Brook has had insufficient perception and reaction time to take any form of effective evasive action to avoid the crash.
The force of the impact has caused Mr Brook's van to rotate 180° and come to rest in the north bound lane facing in a southerly direction. Mr Szabo's vehicle came to rest on the grass verge on the western side of the road a short distance south of the van. The impact has ruptured the fuel tank on Mr Szabo's vehicle. The fuel vapour has found an ignition source and ignited the escaping fuel resulting in both vehicles were engulfed in flames.
Mr Briggs has observed the collision as he negotiated the right hand curve. The front right corner of his vehicle has been struck by debris as he has travelled through the crash scene prior to being able to safely stop. He has returned and pulled Mr Szabo from his burning vehicle before both he and Mr Hutchinson attempted CPR. On the arrival of Tasmanian Ambulance Service at 9.28pm CPR was still being performed by Tasmanian Fire Service personnel however an examination by paramedics revealed Mr Szabo was not breathing and there was no pulse. They determined he was asystole with fixed and dilated pupils and no heart sounds so resuscitation efforts ceased.
Mr Brook was able to free himself from the burning van and crawl onto the grass verge on the eastern side of the road where he was provided with first aid and subsequently transported to the Royal Hobart Hospital by road ambulance.
INVESTIGATION OF THE INCIDENT:
A subsequent post mortem examination of Mr Szabo by Forensic Pathologist Dr Christopher Lawrence determined his cause of death was a consequence of multiple injuries due to a two motor vehicle collision. Toxicological testing in relation to Mr Szabo revealed a negative result in relation to alcohol and/or drugs.
Mr Szabo was the holder of a provisional drivers licence (active novice P2) number 5539771 and had a total of twenty six months licensed driving experience. He did not have any prior traffic convictions.
As Mr Szabo’s vehicle was completely destroyed when engulfed by fire a detailed examination of it was not possible however there is no evidence to suggest the vehicle was not in a good mechanical and road worthy condition at the time of the crash. The vehicle had last been serviced on 12 May 2011. The examination suggests that Mr Szabo was wearing his seatbelt at the time of the accident.
Mr Brook was the holder of an inactive full Tasmanian drivers licence number C70672 which had expired on 10 January 2010. He has one prior traffic infringement in his nineteen years of driving, committed in 2007. Mr Brook later claimed that he saw the vehicle approaching him at a speed he estimated in excess of the speed limit. The approaching vehicle was travelling on its correct side of the road but as it negotiated the curve it moved onto his side of the road and he had no time to react to this.
On the evening of 6 June 2011 Mr Brook was subjected to a blood test at the Royal Hobart Hospital. The drugs detected in the sample were administered in a paramedical environment post crash. Alcohol and/or drugs were not a factor in this crash.
On 10 August 2011 at the Burns Unit of the Royal Hobart Hospital an audio recorded interview was conducted with Mr Brook during which he recalled the impact, removing himself from his vehicle and rolling on the ground when he realised that he was on fire. He remembers little else of the accident before waking in hospital. He indicated that the van involved in the crash was owned by his mother and is a vehicle that he has driven on numerous occasions and with which he never had any problems with the controls or handling .
On the 8 June 2011 an inspection of Mr Brook’s vehicle was completed by a qualified Transport Inspector with the report indicating that ‘an inspection of the vehicle was unable to ascertain the condition of the vehicle prior to the incident due to the extent of impact and fire damage sustained’ however there is no evidence to imply the vehicle was not in a road worthy condition prior to the crash. The examination suggests that Mr Brook was wearing his seatbelt at the time of the accident.
Mr Briggs was the holder of a provisional drivers licence number 5533588. He had one prior traffic infringement related to a speeding offence committed in August 2010. On the evening of 6 June 2010 Mr Briggs was subjected to a breath test which returned a negative result in relation to alcohol.
When spoken to by police on 6 June 2011 Mr Briggs stated that immediately prior to the accident he was following Mr Szabo’s vehicle and that both were travelling at the speed limit. He denies that they were racing each other but prior to the curve where that accident occurred Mr Szabo’s vehicle increased speed and pulled ahead of his vehicle to an estimated speed of about 130km/hr. He lost sight of Mr Szabo’s vehicle as it negotiated the curve but witnessed its impact with the other vehicle. He recalls removing Mr Szabo from his vehicle and commencing CPR before being relieved by emergency service personnel. Mr Briggs declined to participate in a recorded interview in relation to the crash.
The crash has occurred on Richmond Road, Cambridge, approximately 100 metres north of the junction of Hanslows Road and on a straight section of road approximately sixty metres south of the exit of an open right hand curve for south bound traffic. At this location Richmond Road is subject to the open default speed limit of 100km/h. There is a single carriageway constructed of bitumous material with a north/south orientation and one lane travelling in either direction. A continuous white line regulates north bound traffic and an intermittent line south bound traffic. On either side of the road there are narrow gravel verges followed by an area of grass. There was no drop-off between the edge of the sealed carriageway and the unsealed gravel verge.
Approaching the curve immediately north of the crash scene vehicles do so on a slight uphill grade. The curve itself has a positive camber however, on the tangent point of the exit for south bound traffic, in the area of the apex of the curve the road levels out and is crowned. This results in a negative grade on the eastern side of the road.
In reconstructive tests the curve was negotiated at speeds of 100 and 125km/h. At these speeds the curve could be negotiated comfortably however, on exiting the curve, the ‘road/vehicle forces’ force a vehicle slightly to the outside of the curve and towards the gravel. The ‘force effect’ appears due to the negative grade on the tangent point on the exit of the curve for south bound traffic. There are warning signs and three arrow-head chevrons erected on either approach to give drivers notice of the curve.
Subsequent to the crash a ‘Post Crash Review’ of the roadway was undertaken by the Department of Infrastructure, Energy and Resources. The review considered the crash from traffic engineering and road environment perspectives. It determined there were adequate curve warning signs and alignment markers installed and did not recommend any physical works take place on that section of road.
When approaching the curve in a southerly direction vision of the road on the other side of the curve is momentarily lost due to the vertical cresting in the road however this does not impact on this crash.
At the time of the crash the weather was fine and weather conditions did not impact on this crash.
At the time of the crash the roadway was dry and in good condition and road conditions did not impact on this crash.
At the time of the crash hours of darkness were apparent and there was no street lighting in the area.
There have been no crashes reported as occurring on this curve or on the approach to the curve, in either direction, in the last five years.
FINDINGS,COMMENTS AND RECOMMENDATIONS:
I find that a thorough and comprehensive investigation of this matter has been conducted in the preparation and presentation of this file and it is reflective of the professionalism of Sergeant Carrick. I commend him for his investigation.
I agree with determination of Dr Lawrence in relation to the cause of Mr Szabo’s death being ‘a consequence of multiple injuries due to a two motor vehicle collision.
I accept the conclusions of the ‘Post Crash Review’ of Richmond Road, conducted by the Department of Infrastructure, Energy and Resource that indicates that no additional engineering or environmental alterations are required on this section of the roadway.
I find that Mr Szabo died in circumstances of his own creation and there is no evidence to suggest or infer that he was engaged in a common purpose, whether spoken or unspoken, to drive at excessive speed, and/or to race, and/or to drive negligently, and/or to drive in a manner dangerous to the public.
In closing I wish to convey my sincere condolences to Mr Szabo’s family.
Dated:- 29 March 2012 at Hobart in the State of Tasmania.
Christopher P Webster