Road worker who died on the job fears being hit by speeding truck at workplace

By Belinda Feek, Open Justice reporter New Zealand Herald

A photograph of the damage to the state highway shows cracks and collapses in the road with cones around it.

Damage to State Highway 23 with cones around places where it cracked and collapsed in February 2023 (file image).
Photo: Twitter/Waka Kotahi

The daughter of a highway worker who was killed by a truck says she had previously spoken of her fear of being hit by the number of trucks speeding through construction sites.

His father, Brian Barnes, was fatally struck by a truck driven by Michael Stacy, 40, on State Highway 23 south of Whatawhata on Feb. 12 of last year.

An investigation revealed that Stacy was speeding and that the service brakes on his truck, which was hauling dirt from a nearby slide, were only operating at 33 percent capacity. The parking brake only worked at 15 percent of its capacity.

Barnes’ grieving family was in Hamilton District Court on Tuesday for Stacy’s sentencing on a charge of reckless driving causing death.

His second-oldest daughter, Ann Marie, 38, told Judge Glen Marshall that she never in her life would have imagined her father would be killed by moving road cones.

“It didn’t make any sense because he wasn’t meant to get out of his vehicle. “What was he doing getting out of the ute to move cones?

“You know, Dad was always afraid that one day he would get hit by a truck because of the number of trucks he saw racing through road construction, and not slowing down while in a vehicle was absolutely crazy.

“A fear that came true.”

The youngest sister, Gaylene Maruzza, said her world was completely shattered when she was told the words “Dad’s gone.”

“Just like that. Without warning.”

What made it even harder to bear was the fact that the 58-year-old had just returned to work just under a year after undergoing open heart surgery, something doctors never expected him to recover from. .

‘Unable to stop’

State Highway 23 was closed for significant periods last summer as Cyclone Gabrielle wreaked havoc on several parts of the highway.

On the morning of February 12, Stacy was driving a McGowan Transport truck helping to repair a slip on the SH23 bypass.

The road was closed to the general public.

He picked up his Kenworth van from McGowan’s yard and headed to SH23 for a toolbox meeting.

He drove to the landfill site and filled his truck with a load of fill before heading to the landfill.

After turning a corner, he came to a traffic checkpoint at the intersection of SH23 and Cogswell Road.

Working at the checkpoint was Barnes, who had a work machine parked in the right lane, while the cones were in the left lane.

All trucks passing by the site had to come to a complete stop to allow the worker to move the road cones and were subject to a speed limit of 30km/h.

Stacy approached the site traveling at 58 km/h and was unable to stop and collided with Barnes who was moving the cones.

He died at the scene.

After a mechanical inspection, multiple issues related to the brake system were found, including brakes that were not working effectively and mechanical joints that were visibly worn.

The brakes were found to be a “contributing factor” to the accident.

“A huge regret”

Stacy’s attorney, Glen Prentice, told Judge Marshall that his client felt an “enormous amount of remorse” that would have been evident at the restorative justice conference and in court.

“He carries the weight of knowing that his actions caused the loss of a beloved father, grandfather and husband.

“He also appreciates that no ruling will hold him responsible for that extraordinary loss.”

Prentice described it as an “unusual case” given the brake failure aspect, but had decided to plead guilty to the speeding charge.

“This is not a situation where a trucker drives too fast and is careless in wet conditions,” he said.

He noted that there was “reasonably strong evidence” to suggest that Stacy’s truck was traveling at 35 km/h just before the checkpoint, which was not dissimilar to a truck traveling immediately before at 28 km/h.

That truck was able to stop safely.

“The brakes, in my opinion, must have been a major factor in this accident.”

He urged the judge not to issue an electronically monitored sentence so Stacy could continue working.

“It’s what he knows.”

Justice Marshall acknowledged the “devastating loss” of the whānau and agreed not to reach an electronically monitored sentence.

In addition to being sentenced to 250 hours of community work, nine months of supervision, $5,000 emotional harm reparation and being disqualified from driving for 12 months, Stacy was ordered to complete the Right Track program.

Justice Marshall said it was a difficult but “life-changing” program and he would not only find it valuable but would also provide first-hand information to other attendees.

* This story originally appeared in the New Zealand Herald.