Death At The Crossing. A Mother s Heartbreak Campaign AMANDA CROPP IS A NORTH & SOUTH CONTRIBUTING WRITER. PHOTOGRAPHY JANE WYLES.

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1 Death At The Crossing A Mother s Heartbreak Campaign AMANDA CROPP IS A NORTH & SOUTH CONTRIBUTING WRITER. PHOTOGRAPHY JANE WYLES. 66 XX NORTH & SOUTH AUGUST 2005

2 Christchurch mother Margaret McGowan made sure her children were traffic savvy. But two years ago she learned in the most tragic way that a green walk signal is no guarantee of safe passage, when 22-year-old son Duncan died after two trucks ran him over on a busy Christchurch intersection crossing. Thanks to Margaret McGowan s persistence a coroner is now delving into eight other similar pedestrian fatalities. AMANDA CROPP records one mother s determined battle to ensure her son s death and her heartache are not in vain. AUGUST 2005 NORTH & SOUTH XX 67

3 He was a gun skier, mad on four-wheel-driving, a keen tramper, photographer and a fanatical roller blader who d often skate the seven kilometres home after a late shift at Burger King. But he wasn t a jay walker. On April just after 7.30 am Duncan McGowan was at a traffic light-controlled crossing on the corner of Carmen Road and Waterlooo Road, an industrial area on Christchurch s western fringe. No one saw exactly what happened next, but seconds later McGowan was 12 metres from the crossing, spread-eagled on the road, wedged against the rear wheel of a fivetonne truck. His right leg was broken, his chest crushed, and broken ribs had ruptured vital organs. A scattered trail of possessions cell phone, cigarette filters, belt buckle and a tobacco tin marked the path of his final terrifying journey. Less than two hours earlier, McGowan had made a hasty exit from his Cashel Street flat, discarding his boxer shorts in a heap on the bathroom floor. It was a fine clear morning heralding another crisp autumn day and Christchurch residents were waking to the grim news that 15 detectives were investigating the discovery of a man s body in the Heathcote River. But McGowan was probably more interested in ensuring he caught the 6.15 am bus across town to his temp job at Exel, a freight company in Waterloo Road, Hornby. Normally he d have driven or cycled to work but his Suzuki Samurai fourwheel-drive needed a new clutch and his mountain bike had a buckled front wheel. Parents Margaret, manager of a private maternity unit, and Tony, a solicitor with a city law firm, were snatching an Easter break in Queenstown, so unable to cadge a lift to work with either of them, Duncan s only option was to catch the bus. On Good Friday just as they were about to leave he d turned up at the family home in Memorial Avenue with a bag of wet washing to put through the dryer. Their farewells took place in the driveway and McGowan turned down an invitation to accompany his parents, just as he d passed up the chance to attend the Race for the Sky motorsport event near Wanaka with friends. Anxious to fund his car repairs, he was staying in Christchurch in case any work came his way. Four days later the job at Exel came up. By the time he arrived at the Carmen Road corner that morning the sun was up, peeping over the top of the Shell service station casting shadows onto Waterloo road. Duncan McGowan in the bright blue jacket he wore to his death. At this point Carmen Road is part of State Highway One and the intersection carries more than 28,000 vehicles a day, many of them heavy trucks bypassing the city centre or servicing surrounding businesses. At 7.30 am there were few pedestrians about. McGowan was wearing patchy patterned jeans and a bright blue polar fleece jacket. You d think he would have been highly visible to motorists as he crossed at the lights in the bright early morning light. But truck driver Russell Wells never saw him. Foreman of Drayton Cartage, he d started work at 5 am and was taking an unladen four-axle 11,860 kg truck to a service centre in Waterloo Road for repairs. It was a route he d travelled hundreds of times. When the Carmen Road traffic lights turn green, the walk signal for pedestrians crossing Waterloo Road shows green for five seconds, then flashes red for 15 seconds. Motorists turning right from Carmen Road into Waterloo Road, as Wells was, are required to give way to pedestrians on the crossing. After waiting for two vehicles going straight through the intersection Wells made his turn. He was travelling at about 15 km/h when he heard the sound of breaking glass and felt a bump. Unable to see anything in his side mirrors, he stopped the truck and jumped out to investigate. Only then did he see the body lying on the road further back towards the corner. He ran down the road waving and yelling, attempting to stop his boss, Bill Drayton, who was following behind him in a smaller truck. At this stage Duncan McGowan was badly injured but still alive. Another motorist waiting at the lights across the intersection thought a black object he could see lying on the road was a sack that had fallen off the back of Wells truck. Then he saw the shape raise an arm, and watched in rising horror as the second truck ran over it. It seems extraordinary that Drayton didn t notice the 70 kg, 1.74m young man lying 12 metres from the crossing in the middle of his lane. Like his employee Wells, it was only when he felt a bump that he realised he d run over something. Pedestrian Chris O Malley was one of the first at the horrific accident scene. He instantly recognised the victim s distinctive jeans as those worn by the young man he d seen just a minute earlier at the traffic lights. Without waiting for a green pedestrian signal, O Malley had nipped across Waterloo Road behind a turning truck as the Carmen Road lights turned orange. He left McGowan on the footpath behind him but he didn t see where he went. Shaken but desperate to do what he could until an ambulance arrived, O Malley checked McGowan s pulse, cleaned blood from his mouth, and listened to his increasingly laboured breathing. At 7.55 am, Duncan James William Anthony McGowan was pronounced dead by a paramedic. His parents meanwhile were soaking up the restorative airs of Queenstown. The McGowans were a particularly close family and Duncan, who d been flatting for about four months, phoned his mother daily. Their last conversation had been the previous evening we were watching the news and he rang me to see if we d had a good day. He said not to worry he d get a bus to work there was one right outside his flat and it went right to Hornby. As his son lay dying, Tony McGowan was out walking Piers the family poodle with a friend. Margaret was lying in bed wondering if she should phone Duncan to make sure he hadn t over-slept but in the end decided not to. Mid-morning as they prepared a picnic lunch to take down to the Queenstown lake front, Margaret took a shattering call on her cell phone. Her brother broke the news that Duncan was dead. 68 NORTH & SOUTH AUGUST 2005

4 Police had traced the family after finding Tony McGowan s business card in his son s wallet. After contacting their only daughter Kate (27) in Scotland, the stricken couple made the long drive back to Christchurch with Margaret McGowan at the wheel. It was an unbelievably hard trip. It was the biggest shock that it was Duncan. I worried about Kate who was overseas. I didn t think of that happening to Duncan because he was such a careful person. If he had an accident I thought it would be skiing or climbing, or in a river, but not on a road. case was conducted. And two years after the accident she is still writing searching letters to the coroner about if and when an inquest into Duncan s death will be held. Finally in frustration Margaret McGowan wrote to North & South editor Robyn Langwell asking the magazine to tell Duncan s story. It was a letter written from the heart, expressing disillusionment with the justice system and despair that, with no media coverage of the court case against the drivers, many people wrongly assumed her son had been jaywalking. Duncan s funeral was held four days later, giving Kate McGowan time to fly home from Edinburgh. Even at that stage accident details were sketchy and Margaret McGowan desperately wanted to talk to the two drivers to ascertain exactly what had happened. Initially police said they were too stressed to talk to us. We went to the funeral not knowing really whether Duncan was in the right or the wrong and it would have been nice to have known. Not that it would have brought him back, but just to know More than 600 people attended the service at St Matthews Church in Bryndwr and Duncan was buried in the small rural Balcairn Cemetery just north of Christchurch, an area with strong family connections for his father. With her son laid to rest, Margaret McGowan s battle on his behalf began. Even at first meeting she impresses as an intelligent and highly capable woman. When her children toddled off to primary school she completed a bachelors degree in education and for the past 14 years of a 40-year nursing and midwifery career she has managed the 17-bed maternity unit at Christchurch s private St George s Hospital. She still occasionally assists with births. A photograph of Duncan on the dining table shows him wearing the blue jacket he had on when he died. Margaret McGowan has difficulty holding back the tears as she talks about her son and says coping with her A gun skier, Duncan s last pair of slalom skis mark the spot where he died. grief has become harder rather than easier as time has passed. In the days following I think I handled it better but as the months and years have gone on I don t think I m handling it as well as Tony. I think that s the nursing training. During the situation you just get on with it; afterwards you sit back and think, God that was awful. Nevertheless, over the past two years, as well as holding down a demanding job she s pursued a campaign of investigation, writing screeds of letters and s to those involved in her son s case. She can be ferocious: she has complained to the Press Council about coverage of the accident by the Christchurch Press. (A story mentioning Duncan s death had a photo of the accident scene and quoted a traffic engineer saying pedestrian fatalities usually involved children under 10, the elderly or people who were drunk. Margaret McGowan felt it implied her son had been intoxicated. The Press Council decided that the story was well-balanced but noted that editors should ensure complaints of a sensitive kind were dealt with promptly.) She chivvied police handling the prosecution of the two drivers and objected to the chief district court judge over the way the court On the second anniversary of the morning of Duncan s death, in April this year, Margaret and Kate McGowan revisit the scene of the accident. A cross made from Duncan s last pair of slalom skis is attached to a power pole in Waterloo Road, marking the spot where he died. Bunches of fading roses droop and drop petals onto a junction box below. The passing traffic is a mix of noisy big rigs and early commuters. The air reeks of diesel fumes overlaid with a tantalising fresh bread aroma from a nearby bakery. Soon students will begin pouring into Hornby High School on the corner across the intersection. It s a far and noisy cry from the McGowans comfortable family home with its attractive garden and secure automatic gates in the blue- chip suburb of Fendalton. Over the past two years Margaret McGowan has revisited the intersection numerous times trying to make sense of what happened. After crossing and recrossing at the traffic lights just after 7.30 am as Duncan did, she still can t believe how the two truck drivers could miss seeing her strapping son who, according to the police file, was 14 metres from the kerb when struck by the first truck. It seems so amazing. He d almost reached the other side; he was two-thirds of the way across. But his leg was broken and he couldn t get up and out of the way of the second truck. I just can t see how you can miss seeing someone as big as a person lying on the road. The bitter irony is that if Duncan had broken the rules he might still be alive, but it was absolutely typical of her naturally cautious son, Margaret says, to obey the traffic signals. He told his father off for jaywalking and chided her if she drove over the speed limit. After competing at national level he d given up ski racing in 2001 because he wasn t prepared to take the physical risks necessary to win. He was certainly safer than most of us. Margaret McGowan presumes Duncan arrived at work early for his first day as a temp at Exel, found the place locked up and walked back up Waterloo Road to the crossing, intending to buy a snack at the Shell petrol station or adjacent Burger King. If only he d crossed Waterloo Road outside Exel. But that s Duncan to a T. Anyone else would have run across the road through the traffic, but he went back to the crossing. She readily acknowledges she s a protective mother and had dissuaded her son from heading off to work on overseas ski fields AUGUST 2005 NORTH & SOUTH 69

5 until he had completed his ski patrollers training. Duncan was desperate to go overseas but I was just as determined he was staying here until I was confident about him going and being able to look after himself. At school Duncan had struggled academically, especially with reading. He finished his secondary education at a Christchurch Adventist School. Although the family are not Seventh Day Adventist, the supportive nature of the school suited Duncan and he received the citizenship award in his seventh form year. He was never going to be an Einstein but he had a wonderful ability to mix with people. That showed in his generous work as a volunteer for Just Us Youth, taking children of prison inmates on weekly outings. He was also one of the first to put up his hand when the Canterbury Youth Workers Collective needed volunteers to help out at major public events looking after teens who were drunk or in trouble. Former Just Us Youth team leader Lyn Boyd says McGowan was solid and dependable. He was a lovely young man who really wanted to please. He was also a stickler for the rules on a camp he d removed the light bulb when the kids in his bunkroom refused to go to sleep. Boyd says McGowan didn t let his learning difficulties hold him back and the fact he d had his own challenges helped him identify with youngsters in his care. I think he saw the children as having their own struggles and he had a lot of empathy for them. Sport was a major focus of his life and like the rest of the family he was a keen tramper. As a toddler he made his first trip up Mount Sebastapol near Mount Cook in his father s backpack, later graduating to major tracks like the Milford and Routeburn. Duncan began skiing at eight and mother and son spent many winter weekends on the slopes, skiing the Tasman Glacier together on his 21st birthday. We d go right up the top of Mount Hutt, take our skis off, and have to jump over rocks to get to a good place to ski down. I d say, I can t ski down there, the people are like little raisins. Duncan would say, Of course you can. Duncan and I would do everything together. We mountain biked, climbed and tramped. Tony got a bit sick of tramping and he was quite happy to wave us goodbye and be support crew coming behind with the car. After leaving school McGowan had summer jobs at Burger King. He was very fit. He used to roller blade into town to work and roller blade home. He spent winters skiing and working at ski fields as a lift operator. He took up four-wheel-driving with a group of older, more experienced drivers, who on one occasion rescued his vehicle when it started floating down the Waimakariri River bed. A couple of months before the accident Margaret and Tony McGowan won a $40,000 National Geographic tour holiday and they planned to shout Duncan a surprise trip to the UK so he could stay with his sister while they used the prize for a Baltic cruise. By the time they finally made the trip, Duncan was dead. As a way of dealing with her grief and coming to terms with his death Margaret McGowan thoroughly researched the accident, requesting copies of police reports and piecing together his final hours. Without fear of contradiction I know more than anyone on this case; I know more than the police even. I made it my business to. When she collected Duncan s belongings from his flat she found the Exel address written on a piece of paper beside his bed. She phoned the bus company and confirmed that a young man of his description got off the bus in Hornby at 7.20 am that April morning. Vodafone records showed he sent a text message to check his account balance at 7.24 am and got a reply straight away. His mother retrieved the SIM-card from the smashed cell phone and On the second anniversary of the morning of Duncan s death, in April this year, Margaret and Kate McGowan revisit the scene of the accident. listened to the messages. There were half a dozen wanting to know why he hadn t turned up for work. Later a friend who had heard news of an accident in Hornby left a poignant message on the battered phone saying, God, tell me it s not you. The front page of the official police motor vehicle crash report in this case carries a warning about its graphic content. There s a photograph of Duncan s body lying on the road under a truck, one of the accident scene with an arrow pointing to a trail of blood, and another of what claims to be hair trapped in a tyre tread. Margaret McGowan forced herself to read the crash report and the post mortem report detailing her beloved son s injuries. With a clinical nurse s eye,- she hoped to satisfy herself that Duncan had not suffered too long. Miraculously he did not have any head injuries and Margaret McGowan believes the material in the tyre tread was fibre from his backpack rather than hair, something she pointed out to police. 70 NORTH & SOUTH AUGUST 2005

6 She still has the battered backpack its straps frayed and back pocket melted from the friction of being dragged along the tarseal and wonders if it somehow got hooked up on the turning truck, dragging Duncan under the wheels. Police concluded McGowan went under the truck at the second steering axle just behind the cab. Alcohol was not detected on either of the drivers. There were no defects in the trucks or the traffic and pedestrian signals, and excessive speed was not a factor in the accident. The Hornby police officer handling the case, Senior Constable Jim Manning, recommended Russell Wells be charged with careless driving causing death, with no action against his boss Bill Drayton. The file was then reviewed by the police legal section which noted that although McGowan may have been carrying his tobacco tin and cell phone when he was hit, there was no real evidence he was rolling a cigarette or using his phone. Added to that, as his mother had pointed out, the items could have fallen from his pocket or backpack. The legal report said even if there was some lack of care on McGowan s part, the drivers level of carelessness was substantial. It recommended that since McGowan was still alive after being hit by Wells and died after being run over by Drayton, Wells should face a charge of careless use of a motor vehicle causing injury, while Drayton should be charged with careless use causing death. Both drivers pleaded not guilty and 14 months after the accident a defended hearing took place in the Christchurch District Court before Judge Edward Ryan. At the June hearing the charge against Drayton was amended to careless use causing injury because the pathologist could not establish which vehicle had inflicted the fatal injuries. The McGowans were stunned at the not guilty pleas and frustrated the case had been delayed so long. The defence had commissioned AUGUST 2005 NORTH & SOUTH 71

7 a report from a traffic engineer looking at Duncan s demeanour as he crossed the road and Margaret McGowan says repeated questions about whether he was suicidal were a sore point. Right up until the Friday before the court case started on the Monday we were still being asked, Did he have any medical conditions? Was he ever depressed? It made me so angry they were still going on about that, even though we d said no when we were asked the first time. Someone doesn t get out of bed at 6am and travel to Hornby on a bus to commit suicide. The hearing lasted two days and 15 of Duncan McGowan s friends and family sat through the proceedings, sharing the public gallery with members of the drivers families. In his evidence Russell Wells said he drove though the Carmen Road/Waterloo Road intersection about a dozen times a week. The morning of the accident it had taken him two goes to make the turn into Waterloo Road. The first time a truck in front of him turned on an orange light, but rather than follow it and turn on a red light, he d reversed out of the intersection back behind the stop lines at the traffic lights. On the next green phase, anxious not to get caught in the middle of the intersection again, he was concentrating on the cars coming towards him down Carmen Road. He was also watching for cars pulling out of the Shell service station into Waterloo Road. Wells said he did not see any pedestrians. But he admitted there would have been a small portion of the crossing that he couldn t see because a curtain was pulled across a small quarter-light window in the sleeping area behind his seat. To see further back behind him, Wells said he would have had to lean forward and look around, but he hadn t done that. Traffic engineer Gary Huish appeared as an expert defence witness. Based on a reconstruction of the accident, he put forward various theories about how fast McGowan had been moving and related this to visibility from Mr Wells vehicle. Under crossexamination, he conceded that if Wells had leaned forward and looked back that would have improved his visibility. He also said the combination of the bright sky and the shadow cast across the road would have made it difficult to see a dark object on the road surface. Drayton told the court he had not seen McGowan raise his arm while he was lying on the ground and estimated he was two or three metres off the crossing when he ran over the young man (the Police report suggested McGowan was lying about 12 metres off the crossing). He was busy focusing on what was happening up ahead because he d seen Wells stop lights come on and assumed he d been cut off by a motorist leaving the service station. After hearing all the evidence Judge Ryan dismissed the charges against Drayton saying his failure to see an unexpected object on the road was not necessarily proof of carelessness. When McGowan lifted his arm, the movement was obviously of brief duration and there was no basis upon which I might suppose that those movements should have been seen by Mr Drayton. Wells was convicted of careless driving causing injury, fined $1000, and ordered to pay $1500 reparation to the family for emotional harm. He had to pay witnesses expenses, $130 court costs, and received the minimum mandatory sentence of six months disqualification from driving. (The maximum penalty for the offence is a $4500 fine and up to three months imprisonment.) Wells obtained a restricted licence and within six weeks was back at the wheel of a truck, albeit limited to driving around the city and as far south as Ashburton. Judge Ryan commented that while some might think a longer disqualification was warranted in such a tragic case, there were no aggravating factors such as excess speed. We are dealing with a professional driver who has got it wrong on this occasion. I do not think it serves any particular purpose to impose a disqualification penalty upon him for longer that the minimum. A furious Margaret McGowan describes the minimum penalty as pathetic and says financial reparation was the last thing she wanted. I thought $1500, how paltry for a life. She was devastated Drayton got off without reproach and appalled at the judge s attitude. Judge Ryan focused on the men and never looked on Duncan as a person. It was one old man [Ryan] sympathising with another old man [Drayton]. Tony McGowan is a mild-mannered man in his mid-60s and relaxing at home in corduroys and Aran-knit jumper he looks more farmer than lawyer. He appears slightly uncomfortable about his wife s decision to talk to North & South and is hesitant about doing so himself. As a member of the legal profession (practising commercial law), he is more pragmatic than his wife and daughter Watch Where You Walk Next time you step off the kerb when the walk signal lights up, bear in mind the following statistics. In the five years from 2000 to 2004, 18 pedestrians were killed and more than 600 injured, 144 of them seriously, while crossing the road at traffic lights. Ten of them died just like Duncan McGowan, struck by vehicles making a turn into the road they were crossing. And in most cases the motorists were at fault because they failed to give way to the pedestrians. Seven of the deaths involved heavy vehicles such as buses or trucks. The figures don t seem so bad in the broader context of total pedestrian accidents for that same five-year period about 5000 injuries and more than 200 deaths. But national pedestrian lobby group Living Streets Aotearoa says even one death or injury is too many. President Celia Wade-Brown, also a Wellington City councillor, says there are ways of making traffic-light crossings safer. One option is to give the pedestrians a headstart by lighting up the cross signal a couple of seconds earlier than the traffic lights governing turning vehicles. Pedestrians can get out onto the road and it means the cars can t bully them into not starting. However Wade-Brown favours more pedestrian-only phases to avoid conflict with turning traffic. At present Barn Dance crossings, which stop all traffic and let pedestrians cross diagonally, are restricted to a few high-volume inner-city intersections. Really, in cities, the pedestrian should be at the top of the roading hierarchy and they re not. Traffic flow is God. Land Transport New Zealand (LTNZ) is a government body charged with improving road safety. Spokesman Andy Knackstedt says the problem with stopping all traffic to let pedestrians cross is that the total waiting time is longer, people get impatient and are more likely to jaywalk. That way you end up with a lot of people getting injured. In Britain, where all vehicles stop during the green walk signal, the problem of the longer waiting time is avoided by allowing pedestrians to cross on a red signal at their own risk. In New Zealand it s illegal to cross on a red signal, or to begin crossing when it s flashing red. However you can still legally cross if the pedestrian signal box is black (unlit) and vehicles travelling in the same direction as you have a green light. As soon as the cross button is pushed and the don t walk signal shows, crossing is illegal and jaywalkers are liable for a $10 fine. Signs on traffic poles warn pedestrians to check for traffic before crossing on the walk signal and Knackstedt says that s important because there s no guarantee motorists will give way as they re supposed to. 72 NORTH & SOUTH AUGUST 2005

8 about the machinations of the justice system. No one is ever certain of the outcome of any form of litigation, nothing is inevitable in the court process. But he agrees with his wife that Judge Ryan s sympathies were with the drivers rather than the victim. As far as Ryan was concerned it could have been them striking a box, admittedly a valuable box, and damaging it. Tony McGowan was also unhappy about another of the judge s comments. When police asked Drayton whether he had seen the pedestrian walk signal, Drayton said no, he was watching the green traffic light in front of him to see if it would change. In court he stated quite emphatically that the walk signal was not lit up and that the signal box was effectively black. During cross-examination, Crown prosecutor Craig Ruane tackled Drayton about the apparent discrepancy. Tony McGowan claims Judge Ryan intervened at that point and said it was quite reasonable for a person to change their story. Neither defence lawyer Garth Gallaway nor Craig Ruane remembers the judge saying this and it is not recorded in the court transcript; but the McGowans are both adamant Ryan made the comment (Margaret McGowan has applied to court for a taperecording of proceedings and is awaiting a response). Margaret McGowan was so incensed she complained to Chief District Court Judge David Carruthers about the ineptness of Judge Ryan and the unsatisfactory outcome of the hearing. The chief judge replied that he could not intervene in a judge s decision made after a defended hearing, but agreed to pass her letter on to Judge Ryan. After her experience of the judicial process Margaret McGowan remains unimpressed with the way victims families are treated. Getting information was a battle and it was only shortly before the hearing, more than a year after the accident, that the family finally learned that alcohol and drug tests done on Duncan were negative. She says the victim impact statement presented to the court was prepared by the police based on a list of questions the family had answered, but didn t adequately convey how she felt. I wanted to tell the men about Duncan because it s very easy to think, Oh, it s just another young fellow, life s cheap, he must have been doing something wrong. I wanted them to know the kind of person he was, the sort of things he did, but I never got that opportunity. I just wanted the justice system to take its course and at least at the end come out with a conclusion that meant something for Duncan s life and it didn t. Duncan didn t do anything wrong and he didn t get a fair go when he was killed. As Bill Drayton finished giving evidence in court he made the following statement from the dock. It wasn t intentionally done and I know it s left a big hole in your family which will never, ever be filled. It certainly shook our family and work staff, and even people in our district, so once again we are very, very sorry. The trucking company sent flowers about a week after the accident, but there had been no personal contact from the two drivers. For the McGowans this long-awaited apology was much too little too late. Before sentencing Wells, the judge asked the family if they wanted to participate in a restorative justice meeting with him. They did not. Margaret McGowan says it seemed pointless as they wanted to talk to both drivers. Just to hear them say, We re really sorry we weren t paying attention, that s all I wanted. As the defence was at pains to point out in court, police advised the two drivers not to contact the family, and they received the same advice from the trauma counsellor they consulted after the accident. In hindsight Russell Wells wishes he had disregarded that advice. I shouldn t have listened to other people. I should have gone with my gut instinct. I even drove past [the McGowans ] house in Memorial Avenue soon afterwards to find out where they lived and Kate [his wife] said she d go in with me. Just before the court case Wells said he seriously considered pleading guilty, but took his lawyer s advice to defend the charge. At the vast Amcor Kiwi packaging yard in Hornby I chat to Wells and Drayton in a chilly, sparsely furnished relocatable office. Half a dozen immaculate Drayton Cartage trucks are lined up ready to deliver cardboard boxes all over the South Island. Meadow Mushrooms is another major client of the trucking firm, which has 15 full-time drivers, the oldest of whom is 71. Bill Drayton, a short gruff man of 68, bought the company 30 years ago and slowly built it up to 20 trucks. He got his heavy traffic I accept it s a hard thing to teach a child. It s hard enough to hammer home the simple message that you cross on the green man and not the red man, and you don t want to confuse kids by putting doubt in their mind. But parents and educators need to reinforce the need for kids to have a good look at the traffic before stepping off the kerb. School patrols teach kids to make eye contact with the people in the car because if you do that, you re pretty much assured they ve seen you and will stop. Perhaps part of the problem lies with the peculiarities of our road code. In many countries motorists turning into a side road are always required to give way to pedestrians. Here, motorists must give way to pedestrians lawfully crossing at traffic signals, but where there are no traffic lights, they only have to stop for pedestrians at zebra crossings. This lack of coherence could in part explain why so many drivers bowl around the corner when the traffic lights turn green, expecting pedestrians to get out of their way. Heavy vehicles are also clearly a hazard for pedestrians. Although they account for only 10 per cent of kilometres travelled in this country, heavy vehicles were involved in 38 per cent of pedestrian fatalities at traffic lights over the past five years. LTNZ senior traffic engineer Tim Hughes says cars that hit pedestrians at traffic lightcontrolled intersections are usually travelling straight through, and the victims are often jaywalking. But when buses and trucks knock down pedestrians on crossings, they are typically turning left. If you come from certain angles, the truck driver literally can t see you because of blind spots. We try to help that by starting the pedestrians off several seconds before the vehicle phase so the pedestrians are well out into the road where they ll be seen before the traffic starts to turn. But if a pedestrian arrives late and dashes onto the crossing as the truck is about to turn, the driver has no way of seeing them. And pedestrians should avoid getting too close to trucks. If a heavy vehicle cuts the corner the back cuts in a lot more than the front, so you can be run over by the back wheels even if the front completely misses you. In Europe many heavy vehicles have side panels or under-run protection bars covering the space between the wheels, so pedestrians and cyclists are deflected away rather than ending up underneath. In New Zealand such shields are rare but at least one trucking company (Linfox Logistics) is voluntarily fitting them on trailers. A governmentfunded investigation into the costs and benefits of under-run protection is due to be completed next year. AUGUST 2005 NORTH & SOUTH 73

9 licence at just 18 and, prior to April 2003, had never been involved in an accident. All up, the court case, counting legal fees and the traffic engineer s report, cost $60,000. There was a high emotional cost too. The company was bloody devastated just to think we had had an accident and killed somebody. Drayton still thinks McGowan s cell phone may have played a part in the accident perhaps he was using it, or he dropped it and got somehow caught up between the truck wheels as he picked it up. The quietly-spoken Wells (45) is a former commercial fisherman with 20 years driving experience. His only previous truck accident was a non-injury crash caused by a woman doing a U-turn on a blind corner. He readily admits all trucks have blind spots created by the large wing mirrors and cab structures such as door posts. But even after recreating the fatal journey for traffic engineer Gary Huish, Wells remains mystified about how he came to hit Duncan McGowan. I didn t see him standing on the corner. When you re stopped at the intersection you can see the whole corner where the pedestrians stand to wait and cross the road. There was no one there, no cars. I don t know where he came from. I really think I did everything humanly possible. Wells thinks of Duncan McGowan every time he makes the turn into Waterloo Road. As he drives me around the route he took that April morning he says he wonders now whether he did the right thing backing out of the intersection to avoid turning on a red light. You think you re being safe backing off. I wish I had carried on through the red light and Duncan would have been here today. Wells, who has a daughter just a couple of years older than McGowan, says he can t even begin to imagine the impact the young man s death had on the family. I ve never lost a family member like that so what they were going through must have been horrendous. Just having a son and daughter, the family obviously would have been very close, and I feel really sorry for them. The two drivers say driving trucks in urban areas has become harder over the past decade. Traffic volumes have increased. Cycle lanes place cyclists on the left-hand side of heavy vehicles where, even with mirrors, visibility is more limited. And Wells says pedestrians can be highly unpredictable. I ve been stopped at the lights and young kids of 10 or 11 have gone between the truck and the trailer unit. I ve seen it happen to other truck drivers too. The pair also agree that driving standards among truckies have dropped; as many take advantage of higher pay in Australia, the US and Britain, more inexperienced casual drivers are being put in charge of heavy vehicles. Certainly heavy vehicles seem to be disproportionately represented in fatal accidents involving pedestrians crossing at traffic lightcontrolled crossings (see Watch Where You Walk box), raising questions about what can be done to improve pedestrian safety. Margaret McGowan believes traffic signals on busy intersections should have a dedicated pedestrian-only phase so people can cross without having to dodge turning traffic. Kate McGowan, now doing honours in political science at Canterbury University, spent three years in the UK where all traffic stops when the pedestrian walk signal lights up. When you have a green man you know no one is going to do a right-hand turn on you. Wells and Drayton say pedestrian-only phases would make life easier for them too and the issue may come under scrutiny if a coroner s inquest is held into Duncan McGowan s death. Normally if there has been a prosecution in relation to a death, the coroner convenes an inquest only if there are outstanding public safety issues warranting further investigation. Margaret McGowan is still waiting to hear whether this will happen in Duncan s case. After the court hearing, Christchurch coroner Richard McElrea called Margaret McGowan to see how she felt about the outcome. McGowan told McElrea she was far from happy with the court case outcome, but added that she would never have considered approaching him over her concerns as he and Drayton s defence counsel, Garth Gallaway, both worked for the same law firm. Following that conversation McElrea wrote to the McGowans saying that because of the potential conflict of interest he d transferred the file to North Canterbury coroner David Crerar. The latter made inquiries with Land Transport New Zealand (previously the Land Transport Safety Authority) about other similar accidents and at the time of writing was reviewing inquest files of eight other pedestrians killed on traffic light-controlled crossings. Crerar says if there are enough common factors, he may hold an inquest into McGowan s death, and could recommend legislative changes to further protect pedestrians. For Margaret McGowan that would be some small comfort. I didn t want Duncan s death to be absolutely in vain. At the moment his death has been for nothing. If someone dies surely something should be improved as a result and nothing has been. Regardless of whether there is an inquest and irrespective of its findings, this grieving mother has ensured her son is not remembered as a jaywalker by anyone visiting the small picturesque Balcairn Cemetery. Birds sing in the pine shelter belt and the entrance closest to Duncan McGowan s grave is through a farm cyclone gate. His first pair of Dynastar racing skis are crossed above a headstone of West Coast serpentine stone from Wainihinihi near his mother s home town of Kumara. Beneath it are a horse shoe, a heart-shaped rock and a miniature rose called High Spirits. The inscription reads: Duncan James William Anthony McGowan, Killed by the carelessness of others. Beloved son of Anthony and Margaret. Loving brother and friend of Kate. He loved and was loved by so many. His memory will live forever. AMANDA CROPP 74 NORTH & SOUTH AUGUST 2005

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