Witness recalls horror of crash

THE scene of carnage left by a horrific, firey crash on the Bruce Highway near Carlson Road has been etched into the memory of one witness as he recalled the events of September 4, 2008, in Gympie Coroners Court yesterday.

Gympie Coroner Maxine Baldwin is inquiring into six deaths from three separate crashes on a notorious 14.5km stretch of the Bruce Highway, with the inquest continuing this week after a short break.

Steven Mortimer of Brisbane was called to give evidence into the multiple vehicle smash that claimed the lives of Mark Hamilton, Rachel Purdy and Cory Whitmore.

The court heard that the crash involved three loaded trucks - a truck carrying two 15 tonne steel shafts on two separate trailers, an Isuzu pantec loaded with plywood and a semi-trailer loaded with hoop pine and the car driven by Ms Purdy.

Mr Mortimer told the court how “shocking weather” had forced he and a mate to shorten a fishing trip at Turkey Beach and head home (southbound) early on the morning of September 4 in his Toyota diesel ute which was pulling his boat.

He remembered passing a loaded logging semi-trailer as they travelled through Gympie (at the double lane section) and then passing a pantec truck at overtaking lanes south of Gympie.

He recalled looking in his rear vision mirror as he overtook the pantec.

“I noticed the logging truck was right up my backside”, and admitted thinking, due to his diesel ute needing to build up speed, “I was holding him up a little”, later saying he was relieved that the Isuzu pantec had pulled in behind him and not the logging truck.

“I was more frightened of the logging truck being up my bum then the pantec…”

He said he “never, ever tailgated” but remembered braking “hard” when he saw a vehicle braking in front of him, although he was in “no danger of hitting the car in front”, and that’s when he said his natural reaction was to check his rear vision mirror and saw the pantec sideways and about to hit the back of the boat.

He then said there was “this almighty explosion and then we pulled up and were on the scene in seconds to try and do what we could”. Asked to describe the weather at that time by counsel assisting, Andrew Wallace, Mr Mortimer said, “it was definitely raining… it wasn’t drizzly, it was raining… between light and heavy.” Asked if he saw any sheets of water on the road, he said he didn’t, but added: “all you saw was carnage… I’m sorry… the first thing on my mind was to help people… there was diesel all over the road… there was fire…”

He said that at no time prior to the crash did he see the vehicle that Ms Purdy was driving with Mr Whitmore as passenger.

“I never saw the Ford car… you’ve got to remember this happened in a split second…”

He said he felt the heat from the explosion that caused the Ford to burst into flames but thought it was the motor of the pantec burning.

That crash happened about 12.5km south of the crash which claimed the life of South Korean visitor Sanglin Chung on January 25, 2009.

Chung was the first person to be killed on the highway after the introduction of the new 90kmh speed limit. The inquest continues.

Gympie Times

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