Fatal border closure truck crash inquiry stalled

Nearly a year since a South Australian truck driver was killed in a fiery crash at the Victorian border after it suddenly closed to Melbourne traffic, SA Police say a commissioner’s inquiry into the incident won’t proceed until the Victorian Coroner decides whether to hold an inquest.

Feb 02, 2022, updated Feb 02, 2022
Photo: AAP/Kelly Barnes

Photo: AAP/Kelly Barnes

Steven Lawrie died near Bordertown in the early hours of February 11, 2021, when his B-double slammed into the back of a stationary truck stuck in a five kilometre long queue of vehicles on the Western Highway waiting to enter SA from Victoria.

The second truck was pushed into another stationary truck ahead of it. All three trucks burst into flames, with a driver and passenger in the second truck taken to hospital with injuries.

The backlog of vehicles at the border followed an afternoon announcement from SA authorities that the state would shut to Greater Melbourne at midnight, prompting a surge in travellers trying to enter South Australia before the deadline.

Shortly after the incident, Police Commissioner and state emergency coordinator Grant Stevens announced he had launched a “commissioner’s inquiry” to “examine the circumstances in relation to how we’ve been managing our border checkpoints”.

A major investigation is underway after a truckie was killed in a fiery crash east of Bordertown. One truck ploughed into a line of traffic banked up to beat the SA border clampdown. | @BrettClappis @AlanMurrell10

— 10 News First Adelaide (@10NewsFirstAdl) February 11, 2021

He also said the inquiry would aim to “establish the full circumstances that have potentially contributed to the incident”.

Today, nearly a year later, Stevens says the inquiry is not progressing until decisions are made interstate.

“The key element in that particular matter is the fact that the Victorian major crash investigators have referred that to the Victorian Coroner’s office,” he told ABC Radio today.

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“There’ll be nothing further occurring until the Coroner has made a determination as to whether they’ll be inquesting that death.”

Asked whether the inquiry could be completed once the Victorian Coroner makes a decision, Stevens responded: “yes.”

A spokesperson for Victoria Police told InDaily in September it would be inappropriate to comment on the matter while police were preparing a report for the Coroner.

SafeWork SA said in November that it has made “routine inquires” into the incident and is “liaising with the Victorian authorities to assist with their enquiries”, but was unable to provide further information.

On February 11, Stevens refused to speculate on the cause of the crash, saying he would let the inquiry take its “natural course” and “when we do have information, that will be made available”.

He also said a traffic management expert, senior police officer and a planning expert were deployed to the Bordertown checkpoint after the crash to “[review] our set up to make sure it’s appropriate in the circumstances”.

“I wouldn’t be called on whether the arrangements in place were adequate or not,” Stevens told reporters in February.

“But I have ensured that we’ll do a proper inquiry alongside the work being done by the Victoria Police to provide a factual assessment of what’s already transpired and what the causative factors were.”

Asked whether the public was given enough notice about the border closure, he said: “This is consistent with other border closures we’ve done in terms of the timeframe we’ve provided people to come into South Australia.”

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