Family feel let down by GDC after daughter’s death

From Checkpoint, 5:10 pm on 27 September 2018

A grieving father says his family has been let down by his council, WorkSafe New Zealand and Waste Management after his daughter was killed by a refuse truck.

Dion Neems' seven-year-old daughter Carla died after being struck by a truck in Gisborne in May last year as she crossed the road on her way home from school. 

The truck's driver operated the vehicle from what would usually be the passenger seat, as is common practice with waste collection vehicles, in order to pick up bins and drive. Mr Neems said Carla saw no driver in the driver's side so decided it was safe to cross the road.

After Carla's death, Gisborne District Council, which oversees rubbish collections, committed to changing Waste Management's schedules to operate outside school hours.

But Mr Neems told Checkpoint that had not happened and on Tuesday a Waste Management truck was spotted in the same place just outside their home at about 3pm, the third contravention of restrictions the family had seen since Carla's death. A Facebook post by Mr Neems' wife Fiona has sparked outrage from the community.

While the council's chief executive met with the family yesterday to apologise, Mr Neems said it was not good enough.

"She said she had put waste management on notice. [But] she could not articulate to me how many nonconformances their had been," Mr Neems said.

"The community is not safe. We feel an obligation to the community who supported us and they're not safe."

Mr Neems spoke to Waste Management's general manager for the lower North Island, David Howie.

"He was absolutely shocked. He thought the corrective action was being carried out."

An earlier WorkSafe report made three recommendations: Stickers informing people drivers sat on the opposite side, a driver education programme, and removing NZTA stickers to increase visibility.

Mr Neems said he had not seen any of these enacted by Waste Management.

WorkSafe had "absolutely no teeth whatsoever", he said.

"Basically, they put a report forward where they held no duty-holder responsible. It is clearly evident that the trucks collecting waste in our region have a huge risk in terms of vision."

Gisborne District Council chief executive Nedine Thatcher Swan said in a statement the council had been "explicit" that Waste Management was not to collect rubbish near schools during peak times. 

"This incident is a breach of our agreement and has eroded the trust between council, Waste Management and our community," she said. 

"We are looking into removing the large trucks from collecting in these sensitive areas."

Mr Neems said council did not believe the trucks were unsafe so were only acting to appease the public, not out of genuine concern.

"I just can't understand it. It really raises a question about the culture at the GDC."

He wanted cameras put on the front of trucks.

Mr Neems described losing his daughter a "super tough" and wanted to make sure it was not repeated.

"It would be absolutely devastating to have this happen again."