Death inquiry hears evidence of faulty city vehicles

Truck had illegal “home-made” brake pedal, mechanic testifies



Two drivers employed by the City of Iqaluit were operating vehicles with equipment malfunctions when they hit and killed pedestrians in separate incidents, an inquiry has heard.

And a third civic employee was operating heavy equipment with a design flaw that prevented him from seeing a woman who the vehicle struck and killed.

Chief Coroner Tim Neily began a public inquiry on Jan. 24 into four fatal accidents in Nunavut over the past four years involving municipal vehicles.

A six-person jury heard testimony this week that each driver was experienced and not distracted by bad weather or heavy traffic.

On April 12, 2003, Maurice LaChance was returning to the Iqaluit municipal garage in a sewage truck when he rolled over a four-year-old girl who darted out from behind a snowbank on Apex Road.

There were no adults supervising the girl, or other children around playing. Witnesses — who said the girl, Sheila Mathewsie, was running as fast as she could, and didn’t look around before crossing — said there was no time for the driver to avoid the accident.

However, the truck shouldn’t have been on the road in the first place, according to the mechanic who inspected the truck after the accident.

Luc Pothier, then working for Nunavut Auto, found:

* cracks in a cross member holding the frame together;
* a loose beam that prevent the back tires from falling off;
* an “audible air leak” in the air brakes;
* missing parts that suggest the truck risked falling apart and dropping its 15,000-lbs transmission on the road unexpectedly.

Pothier said the “home-made” brake pedal with two pieces of rubber tied together was enough to make the truck illegal for the road, because the pedal moved from side to side.

Plus, he said, the speedometer wasn’t working, the tires were balding and all brakes needed adjustment.

“It would affect your brake performance, big time,” Pothier said of the neglect.

Police charged the driver with driving a vehicle unfit for the road, but a police investigator who laid the charges couldn’t explain to the jury why the charges were later dropped.

Evidence at the inquiry also failed to explain why the City of Iqaluit took their dilapidated truck away before the mechanic could finish the second half of his inspection.

An off-duty Ontario police officer was at the scene of the accident, and echoed witnesses’ statements at the inquiry.

“The driver did not have the opportunity to avoid the accident,” Sgt. Robert Guty said.

“She should have been long gone”

Another city worker was driving heavy equipment to clear snow from the elders’ centre, four years ago, when he was involved in a fatal accident.

Simeonie Nowdlak, 44, said he knew the reverse warning alarm wasn’t working on the snow-plow, when he noticed Iyukaq Qupapik walking towards Northmart behind him with her hood up, but figured the coast was clear when he backed up.

“With the amount of time I waited there for her to go by, she should have been long gone,” Nowdlak said.

Instead, his vehicle rolled right over her, crushing the 50-year-old woman to death. Police charged Nowdlak with unsafe backing of a motor vehicle, and he had to pay a $57.50 fine.

Poorly designed vehicles blocked view

Authorities saw no problems with the most recent heavy equipment vehicle involved in a fatal accident near the public health building in Iqaluit.

Alan Hatt, 46, was on his way to a coffee break on Sept. 2, 2003, when he backed into Ann-Margaret Jeffery. The 37-year-old woman was walking with her infant granddaughter in an amautik, just as Hatt decided to move out of the way of a municipal water truck.

The baby escaped without injury, but Jeffery was later pronounced dead.

An insurance adjustor testified that Hatt failed to look back while in reverse.

However, Greg Merrithew, of Arctic East Adjustors, said the front-loader was also poorly designed, with a boxed motor blocking the driver’s view through the back.

Merrithew also blamed the “blind spot” at the front of a sewage truck that killed two-year-old Adamie Nookiguak in Qikiqtarjuaq on April 30, 2003.

Gary Metuq, 29, told the inquiry that he checked the passenger side and back of the truck before hopping back in the truck and driving forward.

But the inquiry heard from investigators that a child would have to have been at least 10 feet away in order for Metuq to have seen him in front.

Gilbert Evans, Metuq’s foreman, testified that he was an “excellent driver” and always kept his truck in good condition.

Based on the accident, Evans asked the jury to recommend that all trucks be better equipped with convex mirrors on the front fender.

The jury was expected to release their recommendations late this week.

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