The Whangārei District Court has ordered Johnston’s Direct Logistics to pay nearly $200,000 in fines and reparations.
Photo / Michael Cunningham
A family-run Northland business has been ordered to pay nearly $200,000 in fines and compensation for causing the death of a 9-year-old girl and injuring her family members in a road crash.
Johnston’s Direct Logistics
was convicted in the Whangārei District Court on a charge of breaching the Health and Safety Act 2015 that resulted in the death of Storie Bailey Turner-Dave, who was in the back seat of a Subaru travelling along State Highway One near Mata.
On October 30, 2020, the trailer of a Whangārei-based Johnston’s Direct Logistics (JDL) Mitsubishi truck leased from Auckland detached while heading north and struck the southbound Subaru causing the car to veer off the road.
Storie died while some of the four occupants in the car suffered moderate injuries.
The driver of a Nissan vehicle, a 30-year-old nurse, following the Subaru, unsuccessfully attempted to swerve around the trailer. She too escaped with moderate injuries.
Police issued the truck with a “pink sticker”, which meant it was unsafe due to cracks on the driver’s side of the windscreen, insufficient tread on the right rear tyres and an excessively-worn towball.
Subsequent inspection of the truck revealed it did not meet a warrant of fitness standard while the trailer’s certificate of fitness expired about nine weeks prior to the crash.
The trailer was not fitted with brakes when the crash happened, its left wheel bearing was very rough and had uneven tyre pressure.
When the crash happened, WorkSafe said the truck driver, Johnnie Johnston, was in breach of work-hour regulations that stipulated drivers needed to take half an hour’s rest after 5.5 hours of driving. He had been driving for about 6.5 hours since his last break.
He told investigators he didn’t realise the trailer had detached from the truck until he heard a thud and saw the wreckage in his rear-view mirror.
In court on Friday, an impassioned company director faced Storie’s whānau and said nothing he said or did would change what happened.
“I’ve not stopped thinking of the accident. We cannot begin to understand how your family feels. Johnnie has been affected by the accident, has needed counselling and has not driven a truck since.
“He will carry this accident within forever. I travel south regularly and every time I drive past the accident site, I think of Storie. I tried to understand how this could have happened. Every time I feel heavy regret in my heart for what happened.
“We’re a small family business, we get by day-to-day and we know any penalty the company receives or reparation the company is ordered to pay will not be an adequate replacement for the life of Storie.”
Judge Deidre Orchard ordered the company to pay $100,000 in emotional harm reparation to Storie’s family and a further $45,000 to those injured in the crash.
The company, established in 2017, was fined $50,000 as its financial position was not healthy coupled with the fact it owed IRD and the stress associated with Covid.
“I am satisfied that the pre-start checks carried out by the company before one of its vehicles operated with the trailer should have included an inspection of towball and coupling. It would have been obvious to the naked eye the coupling was worn, damaged and the connection was loose,” Judge Orchard said.
“The risk posed was obvious. It was that the trailer could become disconnected from the truck while being operated, quite possibly in a 100km/h area and consequently come into collision with another vehicle.”
The victim impact statements from Storie’s whānau made heartbreaking reading, the judge said.
Judge Orchard said time would ease the family’s grief up to a point but Storie could not be replaced and that her family would always feel her loss.
“At the moment, I sense that the family understandably cannot find it in their hearts to forgive. I sincerely hope that as time passes, you will.
“Because if you don’t, it will hurt you probably more than it will hurt Mr Johnston. To heal, you need to find it in your hearts ultimately to forgive.”