Coroner pledges full, open probe
CORONER Maxine Baldwin yesterday promised “a full and open inquiry” into the deaths of six people in three separate vehicle crashes, all of them along one 14.5km stretch of the Bruce Highway, south of Gympie.
Ms Baldwin rejected a Main Roads Department submission that there was nothing to suggest the highway or its condition was an issue.
“But it is an issue,” she said.
“The issue is, what did cause it? Were the roads in any way a contributing factor?
“We have to determine that, not just accept reports that may have been done.
“It’s about a full and open inquiry into what happened.”
The crashes claimed the lives of Glen and Moira McGreevy on January 30, 2008, Mark Hamilton, Rachel Purdy and Cory Whitmore on September 4, 2008 and South Korean visitor Sanglin Chung on January 25, 2009.
They all occurred in wet weather, during a 12-month period.
All three of the crashes being investigated during an extensive series of hearings in Gympie occurred south of the city, on a road rated the most statistically dangerous stretch of the Bruce Highway.
Counsel assisting the Coroner, Andrew Wallace, said tests had ruled out alcohol or drugs as contributing factors in the fatalities.
Ms K Philipson, appearing for the Department of Main Roads and Transport, had argued that a subpoena requiring the department to produce all documents relevant to that section of highway was “too onerous” for the time available and would involve all deeds, instruments, books, plans and other documentation. “That would go back a century,” she said.
“There is no evidence that construction, repair or restoration of the road has contributed. There is nothing anywhere to suggest this is an issue.”
Responding to a suggestion from Ms Philipson that the inquiry is “not a fishing expedition,” Ms Baldwin said she was familiar with the expression but had broad powers under the Coroner’s Act and did not wish her inquiry to be limited.
“Why can’t we have a fishing expedition?
“I don’t have a clue what I’m looking for,” she said.
“We are having an inquiry into what happened.”
Andrew Wallace, assisting the Coroner, said there needed to be some disclosure of construction, repairs and other highway issues, “1km or even 500m either side of the three crashes.
“I understand it is a very old road and I’m not suggesting the department should be presenting material going back to the 1800s or early 1900s.”
But, he said, issues including road geometry or direction at the accident points would be relevant.
Ms Baldwin assured Ms Philipson that, with the cases being held together, any witnesses to one case whose evidence disclosed matters related to another could be recalled.