Sunday 16 June 2019

Fatal crash driver 'didn't brake'

The accused Vlastimil Zachar outside Sligo Circuit Criminal Court. Pic: Donal Hackett
The accused Vlastimil Zachar outside Sligo Circuit Criminal Court. Pic: Donal Hackett

Ciara Galvin

The trial of a lorry driver accused of dangerous driving causing death heard he was travelling at 90kph at the time of the impact with a council road work team.

The trial at Sligo Circuit Court was told there was no evidence to suggest that the truck braked at the scene or attempted to steer away from a council Mitsubishi pick-up.

The trial is continuing at Sligo Circuit Criminal Court of Vlastimil Zachar, with an address at Connell Drive, Newbridge, Co Kildare who has pleaded not guilty to dangerous driving causing death of Padraig Noone on August 13th 2015 at Ballhealy townland, Hollybrook, Castlebaldwin.

The late Mr Noone was engaged in litter picking with a grass cutting crew along with machinery and vehicles and other council workers when a lorry, driven by the accused, veered out of control and struck them.

Sergeant PJ Gallagher PSV (Public Service Vehicle) Inspector and forensic collision investigator noted that the road leading up to the scene was 'quite a straight stretch of road'. He added that there was 'a very clear view coming from the Dublin direction'.

Sgt Gallagher detailed that while investigating the scene he found a warning sign 6.2km from the accident, along with three warnings on a Visual Message Board - 'no hard shoulder', 'verge trimming ahead' and the final message read 'for next 10km'.

He said the next sign was 270 metres from the impact, reading, 'road works, 2km ahead' and was 'very visible' on approach. Another warning sign was 162 metres prior to impact - 'verge trimming', with a traffic cone beside it and an arrow to the right.

Witness told the court that he examined all vehicles involved and concluded they were in serviceable condition at the time. He said the air went down on the truck's tyres and the emergency brakes kicked in following the impact and locked the wheels of the lorry.

There was 'severe frontal damage' to the cab of the truck. The left front of the truck impacted on the right back of the pick-up moving it into the embankment.

The speedometer of the lorry before impact read 90km per hour. The tachograph of the truck, a device fitted to a vehicle that automatically records its speed and distance, together with the driver's activity, was damaged due to the crash.

The court heard that what was visible on the device showed that Zachar maintained a speed of 90km per hour until 11.10am on the morning of the accident, at which point it stopped recording.

Further analysis recorded that the day before the accident, Mr Zachar was driving for a total of 9 hours and 40 minutes.

Sgt Gallagher outlined that from his investigation there was no evidence to suggest that the truck braked at the scene or attempted to steer away from the Mitsubishi pick-up.

Evidence was read into the record from two gardaí who were driving to Sligo on the day of the accident.

Garda Gerry McGroarty was accompanied by Garda Stephen Foley and noted that visibility was good and signs indicating that hedge cutting was taking place were 'clearly visible'.

On approaching the accident Garda McGroarty saw a rigid truck facing into the hard shoulder, along with a number of casualties. A qualified medical technician, the garda assessed the casualties, noting that Padraig Noone was under the bucket of the JCB and was unresponsive.

Another man alongside the JCB was responsive. He saw Zachar in the cab of the truck 'rocking back and forth with his head in his hands.

In Garda Foley's evidence he also noted that he saw a number of signs indicating that people were at work. At the scene the garda asked Zachar if he was ok and he was shaking and he said he was.

The trial heard last Thursday from General Services Supervisor with Sligo County Council John Clerkin who told the court that on 13th August 2015, he met the team at Castlebaldwin at 8am.

He said all workers signed the Safe System Work Plan which outlined the type of work taking place that day, hazards possible and safety precautions needed.

Mr Clerkin told the court that it was his role to put out signage ahead of works.

He detailed that a Variable Message Sign was put out on the day, along with two further signs, and also a flashing board mounted on the back of the Mitsubishi pick-up, which also had a flashing light on top of it, driven by Gerry Glynn. Mr Clerkin said he left the workers at approximately 11am to go to Ballymote with colleague Vincent Anderson. They then went into Sligo to get fuel when he got a phone call from Council worker Thomas Collery that there had been a serious accident.

In cross examination by defence barrister Ms Eileen O'Leary SC, Mr Clerkin was asked why a traffic light system was not used on the day, he said it was not used as there was a hard shoulder present.

Asked if it was his job to ensure vehicles were parked safely, Mr Clerkin said it was, but added further when asked, that he was not present when the workers crossed over the road that morning to continue cutting the verge in the direction of Sligo.

Mr Clerkin also told the court that once the Mitsubishi was in the hard shoulder it was 'safe' as the lane was closed. When asked by the defence if he would have asked Mr Glynn to move the pick-up further inside the hard shoulder if he was there, Mr Clerkin said Mr Glynn was a 'competent driver' and he would not have been so close to the yellow line separating the hard shoulder from traffic.

Asked if a crash cushion lorry was in place on the day, Mr Clerkin said it was not, to which the defence then asked why it was 'ticked' as being present on the Site Safety Work Plan.

Mr Clerkin said they did not have one. When questioned if a risk assessment plan was done in relation to the works, Mr Clerkin said "Yeah" adding, "I don't know."

On re-cross examination by the prosecution, Mr Patrick Reynolds BL put it to Mr Clerkin that the Mitsubishi pick-up was the 'ultimate warning' on the day and must be dominant on the hard shoulder, to which he agreed.

Foreman on the day, Vincent Anderson, recalled that he and Mr Clerkin got back to the site as quickly as possible after hearing there had been an accident.

Ms O'Leary SC questioned Mr Anderson in relation to his role in ensuring that vehicles on the day were parked safely.

She put it to him that he and Mr Clerkin were not present when the workers moved across the road to continue verge trimming and therefore there was no inspection completed on parked vehicles and their safety.

Mr Anderson said he knew where the vehicles were supposed to be parked. Referring to the Mitsubishi pick-up parked close to the edge of the hard shoulder, Ms O'Leary asked: "If a vehicle was parked 3.9 inches from the broken yellow line would that be safe?"

"Once they're inside the yellow line. The further you're in, the safer you are," he said.

Sligo Champion