Grieving mother’s plea: ‘My family will be forever broken’
The "broken" mother of a Tafe student killed when he was flung from his seat when a Whitsunday Transit bus violently rolled could only identify her son from a tattoo on his right arm.
"His face was unrecognisable," Nikki Brown told Mackay Coroners Court as the inquest into her son's death wrapped up on Wednesday.
"I stayed with my son and used towels to soak up the blood flowing from his ears due to his head injuries for hours.
"My family will be forever broken."
Her emotional statement came after the court heard evidence over two days that the bus Casey Stinson-Brown had been riding was not required to be fitted with seatbelts.
Counsel Assist John Aberdeen, in his closing submissions, said the ultimate aim should be to have seat belts on all school and route buses across the state.
"And that should be seriously examined and a timetable set for its introduction," Mr Aberdeen said.
Mr Stinson-Brown, 19, was sitting in the second last row of a bus travelling to Proserpine when it left Shute Harbour Rd just after 1pm on February 16, 2016 and began travelling along a grassy culvert.
The court heard when the bus hit a raised dirt driveway it became airborne and as a result Mr Stinson-Brown, as well as many of the 10 passengers and the driver, were flung from their seats.
The court heard the Proserpine teen was thrown upwards and "almost suspended for a brief period" above his seat.
When the bus landed it rolled to the left projecting Mr Stinson-Brown into the opposite wall of the bus, causing him to fatally strike his head.
Mr Aberdeen suggested Coroner David O'Connell would find the bus left the road because the driver, Alan Dorman, succumbed to a microsleep at the wheel.
The court heard he was likely suffering from undiagnosed advanced lung cancer, which had well-known links to fatigue.
Mr Dorman, who was charged with dangerous driving causing death, was officially diagnosed in August 2016 and died in September the following year before the case was finalised.
CCTV footage played on Wednesday showed how Mr Dorman was violently thrown from his seat while another passenger came to rest at the front of the bus.
Over two days the inquest heard evidence about the well-known adage - seatbelts save lives.
Mr Aberdeen said the CCTV footage showed what happened to a bus travelling at 80km/h on a rural road.
"This bus couldn't be stopped," he said, submitting the state should review the entire safety issue on route buses.
The court heard there were currently discrepancies between what buses were required to have seatbelts when it came to both schoolchildren and the general public.
A TMR expert gave evidence the cost to retrofit existing buses with seatbelt compliant seats would be about $30,000 per bus, plus extra for appropriate disability restraints.
The court heard the addition of seatbelts across all route buses may not adhere to the Disability Discrimination Act especially in relation to having the same level of restraint for all passengers.
Barrister Guy Hampson, for Whitsunday Transit, said his client could not discriminate against any passenger, had to ensure buses ran on time and had to ensure up to 99.5 per cent of trips were to schedule.
Coroner David O'Connell suggested, in relation to retrofitting buses, the current section for disability and impaired passengers could stay the same and appropriate restraints could be designed.
"I don't think the evidence provided in this inquest has given an adequate solution," Mr Hampson said, adding his client was not against the addition of seatbelts on buses.
Mr Hampson suggested something similar to a task force that in 2001 said all buses carrying schoolchildren on roads like the one the ill-fated Whitsunday Transit bus veered off, should be fitted with seatbelts by 2017.
The court heard to date this had not occurred.
Mr Hampson argued that a single recommendation for buses to be fitted with seatbelts could not be made without addressing a range of other issues.
"Maybe I can add my voice to those coroners before me who said seatbelts should be on buses," Mr O'Connell said.
"The government may do nothing, and then they'll have another tragedy and I'll just raise my voice in support of it again."
Barrister Ben McMillan, for the Department of Transport and Main Roads, said Queensland adopted a risk-based approach to safety policy and implementation in relation to any funding spent.
Mr McMillan said in the five years to the end of 2020, more than 600 million passenger trips were taken on route buses across the state - of that there were only 1058 bus crashes.
"And of those 1058 crashes there were … three accidents involving five fatalities," Mr McMillan said.
The court heard three were passengers and two were drivers.
Mr McMillan said while this was tragic it represented a "tiny proportion" and public safety funds should be spent elsewhere at a higher priority.
Both Mr Hampson and Mr McMillan argued there was not enough evidence to conclude what caused Mr Dorman to veer off the road.
"My son Casey was killed in a bus crash and the likelihood of him being alive today if the bus he was travelling on was fitted with a seatbelt may be higher," Ms Brown said in her statement to the court.
"I understand that there is a substantial cost (to fit seatbelts).
"But I ask everyone in this room, do you put a price on your life and that of your loved ones.
"Please I beg you to consider the safety of people's lives above all else, this is absolutely paramount.
"I ask you to consider the trauma that my son went through but also the grief this has caused my family.
"No other family should be required to go through something as painful as this for something so simple that is required … in all motor cars, aeroplanes, coaches and taxis."