Thursday, May 7, 2009

Day Four, A Day Of Many Revelations

Today we arrived at the court house around 8:45 am.

Testimony continued at 9 am with Cpl. Annie Nielson, the RCMP accident reconstructionist. Cpl. Nielson finished up with her conclusions from the RCMP report which she authored and had previously released at a press conference in Bathurst on July 28, 2008.

We were not allowed to have a copy of Cpl. Nielson's report and I had to request it through my lawyer who managed to get it in March, after a four month delay.

We still don't have a copy of the RCMP Report of November 12, 2008. I also requested that report through my lawyer but was told I couldn't have it either so I had to go the Access to Information route.

Meantime, the Coroner and the Crown Prosecutor have both reports. We don't know why we can't have the same documents as the Coroner and the Crown Prosecutor. It is an uneven playing field and not right because we don't have full disclosure. As far as we're concerned, it's just another good reason to update the Coroners Act. How are we supposed to know what is happening when we don't have the same information as the Coroner and the Crown Prosecutor?

Cpl. Nielson used an LCD projector and laptop which projected images from her computer onto a large screen. This made it easier for us to understand what she was describing as it was all very technical and quite complicated.

Yes, it was hard to look at the pictures of the van and the accident scenes, and to see it described in such a dry, technical manner but both she and Mr. Greg Sypher, who worked with her yesterday and again today explaining their reports, are professionals and this is their job. We finally got to hear what happened that night from two highly professional and skilled researchers who did a tremendous amount of work putting together the pieces of the story.

Greg Sypher, UNB Transport Group

Cpl. Nielson was followed by Mr. Greg Sypher of the UNB Transport Group. He was part of the team headed by Dr. Frank Wilson at UNB that produced the Transport Canada Collision Investigation. Click here to view Collision Investigation Report [PDF Format]

Transport Canada Collision Investigation Report

We found out a few new things that we didn't know already from the RCMP Accident Reconstruction report and the Transport Canada Collision Investigation.

Mr. Sypher explained the issue of tire treads to the jury. Using quarters and loonies, he showed what a brand new all season tire tread would look like (the height of quarters), compared to a tire tread for an all season tire on a passenger vehicle that just passed minimum inspection (two quarters), a tire tread for an all season tire on a commerical vehicle that just passed minimum inspection (two Loonies) and a tire tread for an all season tire on a passenger vehicle that failed (one quarter).

We knew that the van was categorized as a "bus" and / or a "student vehicle" and we had an idea too that it was a commercial vehicle but we found out that commercial vehicles were inspected differently from passsenger vehicles. This is a critical point because it shows that the passenger van was not being maintained properly. Who was responsible for maintaining the van, why they didn't do it and what happened are things we will hopefully find out when the mechanics from Hatheway Ford testify - when, we don't know because the Coroner won't tell us who is testifying on what day, so you have to guess who is coming next.

One of the things that happened today concerned the log book that was found in the vehicle. This is the log book that drivers are supposed to fill out, stating mileage, purpose of travel, gas purchases, etc. The last entry in the log book was nine months previous and it didn't belong to anyone in particular, everyone was using the same log book. This was a complete violation of Department of the Education's own regulations as well as the Motor Vehicle Act.

Another thing we found out today is that there was an edge drop (the drop from the edge of the asphalt to the gravel surface) of 2 and 7/8 inches along the shoulder of the road. This was very worrisome especially when we also found out there had been another accident in the same spot, something that we had been told out by someone and had intended to ask as a question to the RCMP. They brought it up first, indicating that they must think there is something wrong with the way the road is being maintained, otherwise, why would they bring it up first?

In the Transport Canada Report, the conclusions were pretty straightforward. Click here to view Collision Investigation Report [PDF Format]

1. Poor weather and a slippery road surface were major contributing factors in this crash. Despite being plowed and salted repeatedly during the hours leading up to the crash, the ongoing precipitation had accumulated a deposit of roughly 30 mm of slush and snow on the roadway. This snow/slush covering partially obscured the roadway markings, making it more difficult for drivers to maintain proper vehicle placement in their lanes.

2. Driver error appears to be a major contributing factor in the crash. The driver of the E350 oversteered to the left when the vehicle travelled onto the right shoulder. This steering manoeuvre initiated the counter-clockwise rotation that resulted in a loss of vehicle control, travel into the oncoming lane and a collision with an oncoming vehicle. The fact that the E350 was not properly positioned in its lane immediately prior to the driver losing control of the vehicle also indicates driver error, possibly as a result of driver fatigue. The driver of the E350 was approaching sixteen hours of on-duty activity when the collision took place. The last three hours of driving took place as weather and driving conditions steadily deteriorated - increasing the workload for the driver. It should also be noted that the crash occurred near midnight, which would be when most people would be asleep if they worked a normal work day.

3. Poor mechanical condition of the E350 resulting from inadequate vehicle maintenance appears to be a major contributing factor in the crash. There were multiple mechanical issues, ranging from loose front ball joints to a broken rear brake cable. The most critical maintenance issue with respect to this crash was that the E350 was equipped with misaligned, worn and improperly inflated all-season tires. The handling of the E350 on the slush and snow covered road would have been significant better had the vehicle been equipped with properly inflated and aligned winter tires that had adequate tread depths.

We think that Const. Yves Allain, the RCMP lead investigator, will appear tomorrow. He has been present every day listening to the testimony. He usually has a large file folder or box with him containing evidence and he sits in the front row most of the time. We also heard that there will be at least two other witnesses, but you never know who is going to appear because the Coroner won't reveal the witness list to anyone... another reason why we need a new Coroners Act.