Record of Investigation into Death (Without Inquest)

Coroners Act 1995
Coroners Rules 2006
Rule 11

I, Stephen Raymond Carey, Coroner, having investigated the death of Craig Steven Saunders.

Find That:

(a)          The identity of the deceased in this matter is Craig Steven Saunders ("Mr Saunders"); 

(b)           Mr Saunders died in the circumstances described in this finding; 

(c)           Mr Saunders died as a result of head and neck injuries due to a bicycle collision with a motor vehicle;

(d)           Mr Saunders died on 5 August 2013 in an ambulance on route to the Royal Hobart Hospital on the Channel Highway;

(e)           Mr Saunders was born in Launceston on 31 May 1956 and was aged 57 years at the time of death;

(f)            Mr Saunders was a married father of two children and retired at the date of his death;

(g)           The death of Mr Saunders was contributed to by the negligent driving of Michael Lee McCulloch.

Circumstances Surrounding the Death:

Mr Saunders was a very fit person and a dedicated and competent bicycle rider.  On Monday 5 August 2013 he drove his motor vehicle from his home at 70 Arthurs Road, Pelverata, accompanied by his partner Ms Desley Kippax.  He drove Ms Kippax to Cygnet before he then proceeded to Huonville, leaving his vehicle to have new tyres fitted.  Mr Saunders had indicated to Ms Kippax that he would go for a bike ride whilst he waited for the tyres to be fitted.  Mr Saunders had made arrangements to meet Ms Kippax and friends for lunch in Cygnet later that day.

After leaving his vehicle in Huonville, Mr Saunders rode his bike along the Channel Highway in a southerly direction.  When he arrived at property 8856 Channel Highway, the home of a friend, Mr Steven Barrett,  he  noticed Mr Barrett at the front of his home and he stopped and asked Mr Barrett if he wished to accompany him on the bike ride.  After having a cup of tea the pair then set off together at approximately 10:25am. At the suggestion of Mr Barrett they commenced riding to Lona Vale.  The pair began to ride in a northerly direction on the Channel Highway.  Mr Saunders and Mr Barrett had been riding for approximately 10 minutes when a motor vehicle accident occurred.

At approximately 10:35am a white Holden Rodeo utility registered number C29GO was being driven by Michael Lee McCulloch and was travelling in a northerly direction on the Channel Highway, Huonville.  Mr McCulloch was the only occupant of his vehicle and at a point approximately 3kms south of Huonville he negotiated two open curves on the highway.  The first curve was to the left and the second to the right.  Mr McCulloch had exited the right hand curve and was travelling on the straight section of road.  At this time Mr Barrett and Mr Saunders had been riding side by side but as was their practice and with the assumption that Mr Saunders had heard the approaching motor vehicle, he dropped back behind Mr Barrett.  Both riders were travelling close to the left hand road edge heading in a northerly direction.  The bike riders were travelling at around 20-25km/h, it was a dry and sunny day and visibility was good.  When the bike riders were approximately outside 8932 Channel Highway, Mr Saunders was struck by the left hand side of the motor vehicle driven by Mr McCulloch who, at that time, was travelling at approximately 75-80km/h.  Mr Saunders was then forced on to the front bonnet and windscreen of the utility, he rolled over the top of the vehicle and landed on the roadway coming to rest some 55m from the point of impact.  Mr Saunders had apparently landed on the roadway on his head as his bike helmet is shattered.  Emergency care is provided to him by Mr Barrett and emergency services are contacted.  Tasmanian Ambulance Service are notified of the incident with the initial ambulance arriving at the scene at 10:41am.  It is apparent that Mr Saunders had suffered serious head and other injuries, with ambulance personnel initially unable to obtain a blood pressure and there being very poor respiratory output from Mr Saunders.  After 10 minutes Mr Saunders lost cardiac output, CPR was commenced and a weak cardiac output was regained.  Further resuscitation measures were taken at the site and Mr Saunders was moved into an ambulance for emergency transport to hospital.  However, on route cardiac output was lost, CPR was difficult in a moving ambulance and resuscitation was ceased at approximately 11:53am given the unsuccessful endeavours to regain cardiac and respiratory output.

An extensive investigation was conducted of this accident by Senior Constable Cordwell and Sergeant Carrick of the Crash Investigation Service and they are to be commended upon the thoroughness of that investigation.  I do not recite in detail the full extent of their findings and observations but accept same noting that based upon that evidence Mr McCulloch was, on 11 September 2014, convicted of the offence of causing the death of another person by negligent driving.  Of particular note were the conclusions from that investigation which I note and accept as follows:

  • Mr McCulloch was, at the time of the accident, unlicensed, his driver's licence having expired on 16 June 2013 but, he was not aware that it had expired.  This fact, although amounting to an offence, did not contribute to the motor vehicle accident.
  • His vehicle was registered and in a roadworthy condition.
  • Mr Saunders was an experienced bicycle rider and his bike was well maintained.  At the time he was wearing an approved bicycle helmet and a yellow high visibility vest which ought to have been clearly visible to motor vehicle drivers.  Mr Saunders and Mr Barrett were riding in single file at the time of the crash.  Mr Barrett was also wearing a yellow vest.
  • The sun was shining in the direction of north-bound traffic at the time of the crash.  Mr McCulloch indicated that the sun dazzled him for a short period but he conceded he could still see an oncoming vehicle at about the time of the collision.
  • There were at least 13 seconds prior to the point of impact in which Mr McCulloch could have seen the cyclist.  There was a sight distance of 270m through both corners to the point of impact for north-bound traffic.
  • Mr McCulloch was not concentrating sufficiently on the task of driving and has failed to scan his environment for other road users.
  • Drugs, alcohol and excessive speed were not a factor in this collision.
  • The weather at the time was fine, dry and clear.

The post-mortem conducted of Mr Saunders identified numerous and significant injuries.  Autopsy revealed diffuse subarachnoid and subdural haemorrhage in the brain, with diffuse vascular injury to the brain with a closed head injury and some injuries to the upper cervical and thoracic spine.  There are also limb fractures and more minor injuries to other organs.  The cause of death was described as head and neck injuries. 

Comments & Recommendations:

I have decided not to hold a public inquest hearing into this death because my investigations have sufficiently disclosed the identity of Mr Saunders, the date, place, cause of death, relevant circumstances concerning how his death occurred and the particulars needed to register his 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 significant information further to that disclosed by the investigations conducted by me.

This tragic accident highlights the need for all road users to take the required care and attention to ensure the safety of all other road users. Bicycle riding on public roads is becoming increasingly popular in this state and motor vehicle drivers must be mindful of this and drive accordingly. I encourage the Road Safety Advisory Council to maintain and if possible expand the public dissemination of the "It's a Two-Way Street" campaign to ensure maximum public awareness of the messages from that campaign for both motor vehicle drivers and bicycle riders.

I wish to convey my sincere condolences to Mr Saunders' family.  

DATED:  15 April  2015 at Hobart in the State of Tasmania.

Stephen Raymond Carey