A driver’s failure to notice a stop sign has been cited as the likely cause of a tragic crash between a truck and van at an intersection near Ashburton, killing four.

The findings are from a coronial inquiry into the deaths of Sheryll Cairns (67), Avinash Chand (33), Donald Wallace (62) and Jonathan Campbell (54), who were killed when the van they were in collided with a truck at the intersection of Cochrane and Wakanui roads on the morning of June 4, 2021.

Chand, who was driving the van, had missed a stop sign at the intersection when the tragic collision took place, the Coroner ruled.

Chand owned a business with his partner, transporting people to events. The group were on their way to the Golden Guitar Awards in Gore.

Wallace, Cairns and Chand died from their injuries at the scene, while Campbell died at Ashburton Hospital later that day.

In his report released today, Coroner Marcus Elliott said the layout of signs and markings at the intersection were the likely reasons Chand missed the stop sign.

“The reason Mr Chand did not stop was that he did not perceive the presence of the stop sign or intersection,” he wrote.

Elliott said Chand was driving on a relatively straight road and it “would have given the impression of an uninterrupted, continuous road, and it would not have been obvious that he was approaching a crossroads”.

The presence of a shelter belt also means his view of approaching vehicles from Wakanui Road was “restricted”.

The report also mentions that a lack of signage to warn drivers they were coming up to an intersection was a possible contributor to the crash.

“Even though an oncoming driver’s line of sight to the stop sign was unobstructed, it was difficult to perceive from a distance as it could blend into the background. The sign became more apparent as a driver approached the intersection,” Elliott wrote.

“However, in the absence of a pre-warning sign, a driver would not have been on notice to look out for a stop sign and intersection.”

The signage on the road complied with land transport rules for traffic control devices.

Investigators also found Chand had kava and cannabis in his blood at the time of the crash but he’d had “several interactions with other adults” before the crash and it was “unlikely that a high level of impairment would have gone unnoticed”.

“I have no evidence about when Mr Chand had last used kava and cannabis; the amounts he used the level of tolerance he may have hadand the extent to which they might have affected him at the time of the crash,” the Coroner stated.

“While it is possible that the effects of kava and/or cannabis impaired Mr Chand’s ability to perceive the intersection and stop sign, there is insufficient evidence to make any findings about whether this was the case or, if so, the extent of any impairment.”

Recommendations

Elliott recommended that the New Zealand Transport Agency Waka Kotahi identify “any changes to the traffic control devices rule and the Manual that would improve safety at rural crossroads and take steps to implement these changes”.

Since the crash, NZTA has been carrying out a project to improve safety at rural crossroads, and the Ashburton District Council has worked to address the danger at the intersection and others.

Elliott also offered a warning to drivers travelling on rural roads, saying: “This crash illustrates the danger that drivers on long, straight rural roads may not identify the presence of an intersection,” Elliott said.

“Drivers should be alert to the possibility of intersections on rural roads and pay close attention to signs and road markings warning of an approaching intersection.”

He closed his findings by offering condolences to the families of Cairns, Campbell, Chand and Wallace.

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