Peter Francis Colbert, the sole director of Colbert Transport, was charged with one count of manslaughter, and one count of endangering a life, as a result of failing to properly maintain the brakes in vehicles operated by Colbert Transport.
The manslaughter charge followed a fatal accident in which one of Colbert Transport’s vehicles failed to brake properly, ran into a pole and, as a result, the driver was killed. Prior to this accident, another Colbert Transport driver was involved in a ‘near-miss’: Colbert was also charged with endangering that driver’s life. A jury found Colbert guilty of both counts.
At the criminal trial, evidence was led that during the fatal collision, the driver tried to use the failed brakes 11 times: a dashcam video was installed in the truck which recorded those attempts. A senior vehicle examiner with the Major Crash Section of the Police Department gave evidence of the braking capacity of each of the six wheels on the three axles of the truck. He testified that that the particular measurements of each wheel could indicate its braking capacity (for example, 54mm of travel on the left wheel meant the left wheel had only minimal braking capacity).
In sentencing Colbert to twelve years imprisonment, Justice Peek considered Colbert flagrantly failed to meet his responsibilities, including:
- when he became sole company director of Colbert Transport, he did not make any inquiries or look into the service history of the trucks, relying on his predecessor’s casual assurance that ‘everything was up to scratch with the trucks’;
- taking no action despite receiving repeated requests from drivers to fix the brakes;
- failing to have the brakes on the vehicle involved in the fatal accident checked, even though the vehicle was sent to a mechanic three times; and
- directing the deceased to drive the truck on the day of the collision.
Those circumstances were further coloured by Colbert’s cavalier attitude to road safety.
Justice Peek considered the relevance of the ‘near-miss’ to the manslaughter charge, in saying: ‘first, it illustrates or confirms what one would already know, that sending out a truck in such circumstances is highly dangerous, and at the very least endangers the life of the driver of that truck. Second, it had the immediate effect of drawing the problem of the brakes to the attention of [the driver] who immediately drew it to your attention in very forceful terms’. Colbert testified that he was never told about the near-miss. Justice Peek rejected that evidence.
Media sources assert that the case is the first where lack of maintenance by a transport operator has resulted in a conviction for manslaughter.