Record of Investigation into Death (Without Inquest)

Coroners Act 1995
Coroners Rules 2006
Rule 11

I, Rod Chandler, Coroner, having investigated the death of

Desalegn Zewdu Desta


Find That :

Desalegn Zewdu Desta ("Mr Zewdu Desta") died on 29 January 2009 at Cambridge.

Mr Zewdu Desta was believed to have been born in Ethiopia on 01 January 1958 and was aged 51 years. He was unmarried and employed as a fruit picker.

I find that Mr Zewdu Desta died as a result of neck and chest injuries arising from a motor vehicle collision.

Circumstances Surrounding the Death :

About 5:40am on 29 January 2009 Mr Mengistu Atalay Reta was driving a red Ford Festiva hatch EV 2472 ("the Festiva") in a northerly direction along Tasman Highway approaching the Cambridge exit lane. He was driving in the outer or right hand lane. Mr Atalay Reta held a Tasmanian driving licence issued on 25 November 2008. He had had two years prior driving experience in Sudan.

There were two passengers in the Festiva. Ms Tsege Fantay Ferede was seated in the front passenger seat and Mr Zewdu Desta sat in the rear on the left hand side. Their destination was Richmond where all three were employed as fruit pickers.

At the same time an Iveco garbage truck A 27 BD ("the Iveco") was being driven by Troy Andrew Johnson in the same direction as the Festiva but in the left hand lane. The Iveco was specifically designed for collection of kerbside waste and was fitted with dual controls. Mr Johnson was driving it by using the controls on its left hand side. Mr Johnson was the holder of a heavy combination licence and had been driving heavy vehicles for 15 years.

As Mr Reta was travelling down the highway in the right-hand lane he commenced moving into the left lane with the intention of driving down the Cambridge slip lane. In the course of this manoeuvre the rear passenger side of the Festiva came into collision with the front right-hand quarter of the Iveco. The resulting impact caused the Festiva to slide from the roadway onto a traffic island. It collided with a sign and then rotated and rolled over several times before coming to rest down an embankment. During its rollovers Mr Zewdu Desta was ejected from the Festiva.

Mr Johnson braked the Iveco and it was stopped about 20 metres from the position of the Festiva. He walked to the Festiva and observed both Mr Atalay Reta and Ms Ferede in their seats. The former was unconscious but had a pulse. Mr Johnson telephoned the Tasmanian Ambulance Service. As he did so he observed Mr Zewdu Desta lying face down on a grass area about 15 to 20 metres from the Festiva. Mr Johnson, on the advice of the Ambulance Service rolled Mr Zewdu Desta over to check for a pulse but he found no sign of life. A short time later emergency service personnel attended and confirmed that Mr Zewdu Desta was deceased.

A post-mortem examination was conducted by State Forensic Pathologist, Dr Christopher Lawrence. In his opinion the cause of Mr Zewdu Desta’s death was head and neck injuries arising from the motor vehicle collision.

Accident investigators from Tasmania Police then conducted an investigation into the circumstances of the crash. It included an inspection of both vehicles. The inspection of the Festiva found that the female buckles for both the rear right and centre seat belts were defective because of a failure of the stitching in the webbing. The left rear seat belt was noted to be incorrectly coupled with its male tongue attached to the centre seat’s female buckle. Because of the failure of the webbing on the female buckle it had separated from the belt and remained attached to the male buckle.

Mr Atalay Reta reported to the investigators that he did not see the Iveco in the moments before the crash. Similarly, Mr Johnson reported that he was unaware of the presence of the Festiva until after it had collided with the Iveco. It was his initial thought that a tyre on his vehicle had blown out. The conclusions reached by the investigators included these matters:

  • At a point prior to impact Mr Atalay Reta changed lanes placing the Festiva in the immediate path of the Iveco,
  • There appeared to be little Mr Johnson could have done to avoid or lessen impact with the Festiva,
  • Mr Atalay Reta’s loss of control of the Festiva was the direct result of an unsafe driving manoeuvre on his part and
  • Although Mr Zewdu Desta had been wearing a set belt it is likely that it failed enabling him to be ejected from the Festiva.
  • Because he was driving the Iveco by its left hand controls, Mr Johnson’s perception of surrounding traffic may have been compromised.

Mr Atalay Reta was charged in the Magistrate’s Court with causing the death of another person by negligent driving. On 30 September 2010 he was found guilty and convicted of the offence. He was sentenced to a 3 month term of imprisonment wholly suspended on condition that he be of good behaviour and commit no offences of negligent driving or drive without due care and attention for a period of 2 years. He was also disqualified from driving for a period of 15 months.

Comments & Recommendations : 

I am satisfied that a thorough and detailed investigation has occurred into the death of Mr Zewdu Desta and there are no suspicious circumstances.

I accept the opinion of Dr Lawrence and find that Mr Zewdu Desta died as a result of head and neck injuries arising from a motor vehicle collision.

I find that the crash which led to Mr Zewdu Destas’ fatal injuries was a direct consequence of Mr Atalay Reta’s actions in driving the Festiva into the immediate path of the Iveco when attempting to exit the Tasman Highway. I am satisfied that the driving of Mr Johnson did not contribute to the crash.

The circumstances of this crash lead me to comment on two matters. First, the Iveco was not being used for collection of waste at the time of the crash and hence it was unnecessary for Mr Johnson to be driving it by use of its left hand controls. It is my recommendation that owners and operators of these vehicles consider driving them by use of their right hand controls when not collecting waste, particularly when driving on major dual lane roadways. To take this course would avoid any limitation on the driver’s awareness of surrounding traffic caused by operating the vehicle by its left hand controls. The second comment concerns seatbelts. In my view it is probable that Mr Zewdu Destas would have survived the crash had his seat belt not failed thus permitting his ejection from the Festiva. This crash therefore serves as a reminder to vehicle owners to periodically check the condition of all seatbelts and their fittings and to replace them if defective or in a deteriorated state.  

I conclude this matter by conveying my sincere condolences to Mr Zewdu Desta’s family.  

DATED : Tuesday 31 May 2011 at Hobart in the State of Tasmania  


Rod Chandler