A ROAD collapse that swept five family members to their deaths in June last year was an "unnecessary" tragedy that should have been prevented by Gosford City Council, NSW Deputy State Coroner Paul MacMahon has found.
Relatives sobbed as Mr MacMahon found alcohol and cannabis consumed by Adam Holt, 30, "played no relevant part" in his death and that of his partner, Roslyn Bragg, 29, their daughters Jasmine and Madison, aged 2 and 3, and nephew Travis Bragg, 9, when the Old Pacific Highway collapsed above Piles Creek at Somersby on June 8.
"They've just said what we've always believed, that our son died a hero trying to save his family," Mr Holt's father, Ken, said outside Gosford Court yesterday.
The coroner compared the council's failure to act on warnings about the road with the Sergeant Schultz character on Hogan's Heroes, "whose defence to everything was 'I know nothing'."
"It must have been apparent, even to a layperson but especially to a qualified engineer, that the loss of the structural integrity of the culvert pipes due to rusting and the continual washing away of material from the area of the culvert would at some time lead to its collapse," Mr MacMahon said.
"I am satisfied that Gosford City Council both could have and should have foreseen the collapse of the culvert and the road above."
Mr MacMahon rejected the council's arguments that the deaths were a result of Mr Holt's failure to stop the car in time to prevent it "plunging into the abyss" and that the Roads and Traffic Authority had failed to concrete line the culvert pipes and warn the council when the road was transferred to it in 1995.
He found three other drivers who stopped in time had stopped for reasons other than seeing the chasm.
"Whilst Adam's ability to respond to the danger that faced him on 8 June 2007 would have been affected by the alcohol and cannabis he had consumed in the circumstances, even if unaffected, it is more probable than not he would not have been able to stop the vehicle before it entered the void," Mr MacMahon said.
The inquest was unable to determine why the Old Pacific Highway culvert was not concrete-lined in the early 1980s after RTA engineers identified a design weakness that led to concrete lining of all culverts under the F3.
Mr MacMahon accepted expert evidence that the road collapsed because of Gosford Council's failure to adequately maintain the culvert, despite road subsidence and specific warnings in 2002 and 2004 and a quote to rebuild the culvert in 2004.
He rejected that the RTA should have sent a circular to warn of danger after an internal circular was sent to RTA engineers following the collapse of a similar culvert in Bega.
"I have no confidence that even if the RTA had distributed the circular to the Gosford City Council engineers it would have made any difference whatsoever to their response to the problem that had been identified at Piles Creek," Mr MacMahon said.
"Like the estimate and the quote, I suspect the circular would have been lost or ignored."
Mr MacMahon recommended Local Government Minister Barbara Perry order an independent review of the council with emphasis on its inspection regime for road assets and risk management.
"This snapshot of the processes within Gosford City Council must raise serious questions as to whether or not the officers responsible for the management of the engineering services are adequate for the functions they were charged to undertake," he said.
"The problem in this case appears to be that those responsible for engineering services simply did not understand the limitations of their competence and senior management of Gosford City Council had not developed systems that would identify such limitations."