Truck driver denies driving too fast

Tim EdmundsAlbany Advertiser
Truck driver Leon Whittle arrives at court in Albany with wife Jen last week.
Camera IconTruck driver Leon Whittle arrives at court in Albany with wife Jen last week. Credit: Albany Advertiser, Laurie Benson Albany Advertiser

A truck driver accused of driving dangerously, resulting in a crash into a stationary fire truck near Manypeaks two years ago, has denied he was driving too fast before the crash which caused serious injuries to a volunteer firefighter.

Standing trial in Albany District Court facing a charge of dangerous driving causing grievous bodily harm, driver Leon Darryl Whittle told the jury he had “no warning” of thick smoke on Pfeiffer Road before he crashed into the fire truck.

Richard Metcalfe and son Tim had been fighting the blaze when Mr Whittle’s truck struck the firetruck as Richard Metcalfe had been getting out of the cab, resulting in him being thrown across the road.

Testifying last Friday, Mr Whittle consistently denied suggestions by State prosecutor Michael Perrella he was not driving to the conditions after seeing the smoke from the bushfire when he had turned onto Pfeiffer Road.

Mr Whittle told the jury he had driven the road “heaps” and could see the smoke in the distance but as he approached, he opted to turn on his headlights in thin smoke.

He said he applied the jake brake on the truck to slow down and within two seconds of reaching up to turn on his headlights there was “no warning” and he “couldn’t see anything” because of thick smoke.

“The next thing I remember is seeing something white. I know fire was on the right, so I turned left,” Mr Whittle recalled.

He was also seriously injured in the crash and he had only a “vague” memory of crawling out of the cab.

St John Ambulance paramedic Stacey Abbott told the jury she treated Mr Whittle at the scene and he had told her he was travelling 90-95km/h before the crash and he did not “wash off” any speed before the collision. The speed limit is 110km/h.

In cross-examination, Mr Perrella suggested Mr Whittle was driving at a speed in excess of what he could see ahead.

“You know you were going too fast for the conditions...you were doing 90-95kmh,” Mr Perrella said.

To this, Mr Whittle replied: “You weren’t with me, I was slowing down.

“I started slowing down when I hit the smoke.”

In closing the State case, prosecutor Mr Perrella said Mr Whittle’s driving of the prime mover with two trailers was “inherently dangerous”.

Mr Perrella said the evidence from other drivers who braked and proceeded with caution through the smoke before and after the crash suggested it was “abundantly clear” the situation was dangerous.

“It was totally avoidable if Mr Whittle didn’t drive as fast as he did,” he said.

But defence counsel Gary Massey said the only evidence the prosecution had to detect what speed his client was driving was from Ms Abbott and no expert evidence from Major Crash investigators existed except for skid marks, which showed he had braked.

Mr Massey said Mr Whittle had just suffered a significant trauma and he was not capable of answering the paramedics’ questions accurately.

He said the bushfire conditions and smoke across the road had changed consistently and it “defied belief” Mr Whittle, a driver of 38 years with an impeccable driving record, would drive at 90-95km/h through the smoke.

“A ‘whiteout’ of smoke occurred that he wasn’t expecting and that was the tragic circumstance,” Mr Massey said.

“Ultimately it was an accident and very fortunate people were not killed. Mr Whittle did everything he could and it wasn’t caused by him driving dangerously.”

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