Dooring death charge blocked by senior police

Senior police blocked the charging of a woman driver who opened her car door in a shared parking lane-cycle lane and knocked a cyclist into the path of a heavy trailer towed by a truck, a Victorian coroner says.

James Bernard Cross, 22 died shortly after he was knocked from the marked bicycle lane into the path of the wheels of the trailer on an earthmoving truck in Glenferrie Road in the Melbourne suburb of Hawthorn on March 17 last year.

Sen-Const. Linda Kane told Coroner Heather Spooner she had prepared the coronial brief.

She said a “potential police charge of “opening a vehicle door to the danger of another” was not pursued against the car driver, Ellen Richards, 60.

Sen-Const Kane said she had spoken to her bosses at her station who had informed her that a charge against Ms Richards would not be authorised.

She said it was clear that Mr Cross had struck Ms Richards’ car door.

Asked whether the distance of the car door opening was important, Sen-Const Kane said it did not matter how far the door was opened. “Once you open the door and cause hazard to another the offence is complete,” she said.

Mrs Richards was granted immunity from prosecution after a submission from her lawyer.  She finally had provided a statement to police on June 12 – three months after the crash – prepared with the help of her lawyer.

She claimed she had only opened her car door 12cm.

She admitted under cross-examination that she may have been parked for about two minutes before she opened the door.

She claimed that she had looked in the outside mirror before opening the door and had seen the truck but not Mr Cross.

Under cross-examination, Ms Richards admitted she could not remember whether she had looked in the inside rearvision mirror or looked over her shoulder.  If she had turned her head she would have had an unobstructed view.

The cross-examination also showed that Ms Richards also may have experienced a lack of awareness of bicycles and the marked bicycle lane on that particular day, Ms Spooner said.

Ms Richards had no comment to make on the statement of another witness who said she had opened the door far enough to get out but not fully open.

Ms Linda Ivett, of VicRoads, told the inquest that although Mr Cross was the only known Victorian fatality involving dooring, there were 1112 reported crashes between 2000-2010 involving a cyclist colliding with a car door.  Of these 305 resulted in serious injury involving hospital admission and 802 involving other injury.

Although other crash types were more significant, 15 per cent of crashes reported in the central business district of Melbourne involved doorings.

Ms Spooner released her findings on November 10.

She said the death of a Mr Cross, a promising musician and student, was preventable and action was needed to ensure it was never repeated.

“It has highlighted a very significant public safety hazard, particularly in high-risk areas where car dooring is responsible for many injuries to cyclists,” Ms Spooner said.

Read Coroner Heather Spooner’s full findings at: http://www.coronerscourt.vic.gov.au/resources/3/6/36f3f70049020dfcb4bdfec4cdff2827/jamesbernardcross_104110.pdf

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