A Strabane long distance lorry driver was killed after his vehicle was struck head on by an oncoming articulated truck.
The articulated lorry, driven by Declan Harvey (43) of Lisnafin Park, Strabane was struck by another articulated truck driven by Jerzey Rataj on November 10, 2010.
Strabane Coroner’s Court heard this week that Mr Rataj, a 56-year-old Polish national with an address in Swords. Co Dublin, was subsequently charged with causing the death of Mr Harvey by dangerous driving.
However, he had since died from a massive heart attack during a visit to his homeland on February 22 this year.
The inquest was told that on the morning of November 10 last year, Mr. Harvey had risen for work at 2.30am and departed kissing his partner of 22 years, Rosemary Rouse on the cheek saying: “I love you and I’ll see you at six.”
The court heard from Mr. Harvey’s work colleague at O’Neill’s Sportswear in Strabane, Mr. Chris McGonagle, that when he arrived to collect his loaded lorry from the yard he was in his usual good form.
Mr McGonagle told the court: “We spoke for ten minutes. As he left he said ‘I’ll see you on Monday all being well.’”
Ten minutes after his departure while driving along the A5 Melmount Road towards Sion Mills, the fatal crash occurred.
A police inspector told the court that driving conditions were “dry and clear.”
He told Coroner Suzanne Anderson: “One lorry was in the Omagh bound lane and the tractor unit had suffered extensive damage on the driver’s side of the cab.
“There were fresh tyre marks on the near side of the grass verge and a trail of debris along the road leading to a second vehicle in a grass ditch. It too had suffered extensive damage to its trailer. There was one male driver trapped inside but there were no signs of life.”
The inspector examined both men’s mobile phones but there was no evidence of any relevant activity.
The lorries’ tachograph recorders were also forensically examined but both drivers had been within the 40mph speed limit and had met with all necessary legislation concerning breaks.
The inspector also told the court that when police first spoke to Mr. Rataj in hospital he stated: “I was travelling on the wrong side of the road but due to speed and gears on the lorry I was unable to do anything about it.” However during further interview he refused to confirm or deny that statement saying he couldn’t recall the incident.
Forensic scientist, Damien Coll told the court that neither vehicle had any defects and the road marks showed that the vehicle driven by Mr. Rataj had crossed the central meridian line on a bend and struck Mr. Harvey’s vehicle causing “severe destruction to the driver’s area of his lorry.
“The Mann lorry had moved across the carriageway into the oncoming lane before mounting the grass verge and colliding with a tree.”
The coroner asked: “The collision occurred when the Scania lorry, driven by Mr. Rataj, crossed into the Newtownstewart bound lane in which Mr. Harvey was travelling?”
“Correct,” said the witness.
The Coroner asked: “Is there any possible reason why this occurred?” The witness replied: “There was no definitive cause which I could state as a major contributory factor?”
The Coroner asked: “Would we have to put it down to driver error?” to which the witness replied: “That’s correct.
“In my opinion there was a gradual drift across the lanes, it was not a sharp manoeuvere. It was in the oncoming lane for a period of time, I suspect it happened as he was coming around the corner.”
Recording the cause of death as multiple injuries sustained in the road traffic collision, the Coroner extended her sympathies to Mr. Harvey’s family.