Australia: CoR enforcement and the death of an innocent man

Last Updated: 23 April 2017
Article by Geoff Farnsworth
Most Read Contributor in Australia, September 2018

We revisit the case of Geoffrey Candlin, killed in a hit-and-run collision with a B double in 2011. Some witnesses considered the fatigue of the driver to be a potential contributing factor. The driver was also discovered to have a history of non-compliance with his responsibilities. However, the roles of consignor, consignee and prime contractor received little consideration.

How did the incident occur?

At 4.55am on 29 March 2011, Mr Candlin was driving south on the Bruce Highway in Queensland when his van was hit by the second trailer of a Kenworth B double, being driven north by a man named Rodney Gordon. Mr Gordon was employed by McAlpine Freight Lines Pty Ltd.

Gordon's prime mover had veered left, off the road, and recovered only just in time for the prime mover and first trailer to avoid a 2.5 metre-deep grassed drain area. The second trailer entered the drain and hit its opposite bank before returning to the road, where its taillights struck the driver's side of Mr Candlin's van.

The impact tore off the trailer's right rear light assembly and a section of fibreglass. Candlin sustained severe head injuries and died almost instantly.

Mr Gordon did not stop at the scene of the accident, but continued to drive north to deliver his cargo. However, a passer-by observed Mr Gordon's damaged vehicle and contacted police when he became aware of the accident. Mr Gordon was later arrested.

It is notable that at 4.53am, Mr Gordon had received a telephone call from one of the consignors of the cargo on the vehicle, but this fact appears to have been given only cursory consideration.

Findings lack consistency

The findings of the Queensland state coroner into the death of Geoffrey George Candlin provide an example of inconsistency.

An examination of the prime mover after the event found a number of defects: the second drive axle's left service brake chamber, for example, was completely inoperative, and both first axle drives required adjustment. The coroner's report states that the investigator concluded that:

"the brakes of the prime mover were in a potentially dangerous condition, especially whilst laden and the conditions of the brakes were indicative of a gross lack of maintenance."

However, the investigator commented that none of the defects he had found would cause the vehicle to veer from the road. The report states that the senior police constable involved:

"believed that two factors may have contributed to the accident – fatigue or Mr Gordon was driving too fast for the prevailing conditions."

This officer was present with Mr Gordon in the watch house on the morning of the collision, before he was taken to hospital, and observed that he had fallen into a deep sleep at the watch house.

He fell asleep again during the drive to the hospital, at the hospital and during the drive back to the watch house.

Another officer present during the trip to the hospital was Constable Alberich who, according to the coroner:

"saw that Mr Gordon was asleep in a cell. He was snoring loudly. It took some time to wake him. He noted that Mr Gordon's eyes were bloodshot and glassy. He was continually yawning and appeared to be very tired."

Mr Gordon, however, gave evidence that he had slept for 8 to 10 hours before beginning the drive that night (at around midnight) and was not tired.

During the investigation, it emerged that Mr Gordon had:

  • been charged on six occasions with driving for times exceeding the maximum allowable;
  • had three convictions of failing to record information in his log book appropriately; and
  • had been convicted of towing a noncompliant load.

An audit was conducted of McAlpine Freight Lines, resulting in the company losing its National Heavy Vehicle Accreditation. Mr Gordon was charged with dangerously operating a vehicle and leaving the scene of an accident. In 2013 he was found not guilty by a jury in the district court of Townsville.

Is the law being applied consistently?

While the amendments to Chain of Responsibility (CoR) law are welcome, it is vital that they are enforced consistently and equitably, without a focus on any one state or class of participant.

I have written previously about the case of a truck driver who was killed in a heavy vehicle accident. Despite the broad definition of fatigue in the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL), the coroner found that the driver was not fatigued. As a result, it was considered that no one had any obligation to intervene to prevent the driver driving while fatigued.

Cases such as this and the Candlin case highlight the importance of CoR, but they also suggest that the law is not being applied consistently. The roles of the consignor, consignee and prime contractor were not examined in any significant respect.

As mentioned, the fact that the driver received a call from the consignee shortly before the accident appears to have made little impact on the Coroner's decision.

The only person who may have seen Mr Gordon before the accident, the man who had handed over the truck to him at midnight, is reported to have spoken solely of the condition of the vehicle, with no mention of Mr Gordon's condition.

While we understand that enforcement agencies have limited resources, surely incidents involving fatalities should receive priority.

This publication does not deal with every important topic or change in law and is not intended to be relied upon as a substitute for legal or other advice that may be relevant to the reader's specific circumstances. If you have found this publication of interest and would like to know more or wish to obtain legal advice relevant to your circumstances please contact one of the named individuals listed.

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