Lack of warning main factor in engineer’s death: lead investigator

Rosie Mullaley
Published on September 3, 2014
RNC Const. Barry Osmond chats with defence lawyer Randy Piercey during a break in proceedings in the trial for the City of St. John’s and Department of Transportation and Works at provincial court in St. John’s Tuesday. — Photo by Rosie Mullaley/The Telegram

A public worker was struck and killed on the Outer Ring Road three years ago mainly because there was a lack of warning signs for drivers to be on the lookout for pedestrians, the lead investigator told a St. John’s court Tuesday.

“People encountered something they didn’t expect to encounter,” RNC Const. Barry Osmond said while testifying in the trial of the City of St. John’s and the Department of Transportation and Works.

“There were no businesses or residences, so no expectations to see pedestrians in traffic. ... People weren’t forewarned that anything was going on on the highway.

“There was no indication there were people on the road.”

The city and the department are each charged with about half a dozen counts under the Occupational Health and Safety Act for failing to do all they could to protect the safety of their employees.

The charges were laid after a senior engineer with the department died in an accident at 1 p.m. on July 5, 2011, on the Outer Ring Road in St. John’s.

He was there with others to discuss highway ruts and the potential use of alternate asphalt mixes to minimize wear and tear when he was struck by a Chevy Blazer.

Two other employees — an Irving employee and a City of St. John’s employee — were hit and seriously injured.

Nine employees from the city, the department and Irving had driven to the site in three vehicles, which they parked on the right shoulder.

Four of them walked across the eastbound lanes towards the median by a guardrail. The five others were on the side of the road.

The driver of the Chevy Blazer was forced to brake after vehicles in front of him suddenly slowed down. The driver crossed the left eastbound lane and struck three of the four men at the median.

After gathering evidence from the scene and speaking with witnesses, Osmond compiled a report on his findings, listing factors which he believed led to the accident. His report was the focus of his testimony Tuesday.

Osmond said the only indication to drivers that anything was going on at the scene was a small, flashing amber hazard light on the roof of one of the department worker’s vehicles, which would have been difficult to see.

“This did not give motorists sufficient time or distance to adjust their driving,” said Osmond, who helped investigate more than 6,000 accidents in 22 years.

However, defence lawyer Nick Avis, who is representing the department, questioned why the driver of the Chevy Blazer didn’t see the employees and their vehicles while other drivers interviewed said they saw them from a kilometre away.

He also pointed out that according to Osmond’s calculations on sight distance in his report, motorists would have had 36 to 40 seconds to react at the speed limit of 100 km/h.

“I suggest 36 seconds is ample time to adjust their driving,” Avis said.

Avis also questioned why police didn’t further investigate the driver.

The driver, in his early 20s— who had gotten his driver’s licence four months prior to the accident — wasn’t charged or ticketed.

He had told police it was raining so hard at the time, he had his wipers on high and was paying particular attention. He also insisted he wasn’t distracted.

However, while it had begun to rain after the accident, pavement at the time was relatively dry.

The driver also told police he had been travelling at 85 km/h, when the investigation revealed he had been driving at 99 km/h.

Avis also pointed out that Osmond didn’t bother to check the driver’s cellphone records to see if he had been using it at the time. Instead, Osmond took his word for it.

“He gets the weather wrong. He gets his speed wrong. … Why wasn’t he challenged?” Avis asked.

“It’s not my feeling he was intentionally misleading me,” Osmond replied.

Randy Piercey is representing the city, while Mike King and Erin Breen from Simmonds+Partners Defence firm are prosecuting the case.

Lawyers will present their final arguments on Friday.

Meanwhile, Irving Oil Commercial GP had also been charged in relation to the accident.

In May, the company pleaded guilty to three charges under the province’s Occupational Health and Safety Act and was fined $15,500 — $2,000 of which was to go to the minister of Service NL for public education regarding occupational safety on provincial highways.

Charges were withdrawn against the company’s two other entities — Irving Oil Refining and Irving Oil Terminals — in exchange for Irving Commercial’s guilty pleas.

Twitter: @TelyCourt