Council admits pothole failures at inquest

Inquest pothole james Hughes Melissa Pearce councils

A council has formally apologised to relatives of a Ducati rider who crashed and died after hitting a massive 3.8m-wide pothole near Goulburn, NSW.

The Goulburn Mulwaree Council apology came at the recent coronial inquest into the death of James Hughes, 50, on the Oallen Ford Bridge on October 4, 2015.

Although the council conceded that they made multiple failings in road maintenance, the legal ramifications are not yet established as the coroner won’t release her findings until February 21, 2017, at Glebe Coroners Court.

James’s partner, Melissa Pearce, welcomes the apology, but says it will not bring James back.

“Goulburn Mulwaree council have conceded that they made multiple failings,” she says. 

“Nothing will bring James back but I believe people have learnt from it and things will change,” she says.

James and Melissa pothole inquest
James and Melissa

Councils, roadworks contractors and riders alike will be eagerly watching the findings of the coroner.

The massive pothole appeared shortly after the new bridge was constructed.

The police scientific report says the total road surface damage was 3.8m wide by 1.5m long and 110m depth with the edges pushed up on the top side of the hole. 

James was riding his “pride and joy” Ducati 900S2 when he struck the pothole.

The impact sent the bike into the guardrail and James was flung 5m over the side of the bridge. The autopsy says he died of “multiple injuries”.

During the inquest, council operations director Matt O’Rourke broke down under questioning.inquest bridge roadworks pothole

“It is evident … that the road’s surface should never have deteriorated to the extent that it did,” he told the inquest.

A Roads and Maritime Service investigation found:

  • Council had not maintained the road safely or warned motorists about the condition.
  • Council did not record or promptly investigate earlier complaints about the road’s condition by motorists;
  • Council had not acted upon advice from the council’s works supervisor and inspection officer on September 22, 2015, that the bridge approaches should be “made safe” as soon as practicable; and
  • Council had not used an “appropriate method of repair” when potholes appeared within days and weeks of the road’s opening on September 11, 2015.

The RMS report said the accident was the result of “a number of errors” and one person was not to blame.

The inquest was told that several council procedural changes has been implemented since the fatality.

These include an overhaul of the customer request management system; stricter internal reporting and road monitoring; higher grade duties, ensuring someone was acting in roles during leave; and depot consolidation to improve communication.

9 Comments

  1. Just got back from the Philippines where motorcycles are the preferred mode of transport. There the road’s are made of concrete, they dig down to solid base and then put 1/2 a metre or more of concrete on top, lasts for ages and easily repaired. This is in a relatively poor asian neighbour.

  2. I look at the picture of the road damage and I see it extends over both sides of the centreline. The damage is wider than it is long. This makes me wonder whether there is something fundamental in the bridge’s design and/or contruction that made the surface deterioration at that particular spot inevitable.
    Yes, the council should have patched or renewed the surface before it got as bad as it did, but would the surface have failed again in a short time?
    Ideally the coroner would engage an independent civil engineer to evaluate everything about the bridge project. Costs means that won’t happen. It would take something like the bridge collaping and a busload of foreign tourists dying before the shit would really hit the fan and real answers would have to be found.

  3. Anywhere else OH&S is a priority. Zero harm. Safety First.
    Cease all activities that may cause a paper cut.
    Not on the roads though. Society is conditioned to accept that the price we pay for driving our cars is death and injury at an astonishing rate.
    If that many people died in a plane crash per year, there would be hell to pay.
    Councils all over the place are wholeheartedly negligent towards vulnerable road users.
    It is the only area of our lives where the risk of death is an acceptable outcome.
    Until society refuses to accept this death toll, they are getting away with murder.

  4. Thanks for the apology but he’s still dead. It seems virtually every road in my area [Gippsland] now have PERMANENT ‘rough surface’ signs, when is abysmal road condition going to be seen as an important consideration in road safety and reducing the road toll?

  5. This is surely negligence of the highest order, a failure of duty of care, hopefully there are grounds to sue the daylights out of the council and all responsible officials.
    Such a suit can never make up for the tragic loss of life caused by the failure of those responsible.
    A massive monetary penalty will not only get their attention but will also garner the attention of other responsible authorities across the nation. Thus going a long way towards ensuring that these matters are taken much more seriously in future, and avoiding a recurrence of this so easily avoidable tragedy.
    Hopefully heads will also roll, so that those who’s duty it is to maintain our roads will take greater personal and professional responsibility.

  6. With such serious damage occurring in such a short time there should be questions about the quality of the initial work as to it being sub standard ,scrimped on or some form of corruption or incompetents involved.

      1. Robert 3 months! well in our area 2 weeks is enough for the road to disintegrate.
        The main problem is how they make the road in the first place.
        If you have a chance pull over and watch the road works team.
        Well first they grade the road sort of level! then spray tar (not sure if this is the correct if it is tar ) then lay crushed blue stone on top of the tar. Thats it unless your lucky and get a coating of hot mix which is better still but depends who does it!
        So what we have is 3 to 5 cm on top of the road,now in hot weather all this melts/expands with vehicle use it breaks up etc, now with wet weather the cracks in the surface let in water and with vehicles rolling over the surface we get hydraulic action with the water being compressed under the tar and spreading a bit with each and every vehicle thus ending up with surface deterioration other words pot holes etc.
        I have reported to the authorities many times bad road surfaces (as we all should, saving a life i hope so) (not like frigin speed cameras how many cameras have given CPR, made a phone call to help!!!!).
        As far as i can see we are being ripped off big time.
        The authorities cannot seem to get the idea to make the road properly the first time and no more problems.
        But alas i dream of going back to USA with bloody decent roads watch any yutube clip of riders in USA and look at the road surfaces a lot better than what we get.

        1. There has be a case then for building a road to a better standard in the first place, sure it’s more expensive but in the long run at least it won’t fall to bits. Re the USA, one thing I have noticed on USA YouTube, is that there are a lot of tar snake repairs, but that could just be some selective bias on what I am viewing.

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