By Kath Gannaway
A windy section of the Healesville-Kooweerup Road where two people died and three others were injured on Sunday, 9 April, needs urgent surface works according to police.
Witnesses to the crash, locals who rushed to help, and emergency services personnel from around the Valley faced an horrific scene.
The vehicle ran off the road on a sweeping bend in the wet, rolled and crashed into a tree at around 2.30pm.
Leading Senior Constable Scott Lardner from Yarra Ranges Highway Patrol who attended the crash, has recommended to VicRoads that the speed on the stretch of the most notorious of several bends be lowered from 80km/h to 70km/h, but said it needed more than that.
He was contacted by VicRoads following the crash.
“They asked me for an opinion and I’ve said what we don’t need is a kneejerk reaction that lowers the speed and that’s the end of it,” he said.
“It’s not about speed all the time and real action needs to be taken on the road surface.
“It’s a bad piece of road.“
According to VicRoads 3300 vehicles a day use the road, which was resurfaced in 2013, with minor patching carried out in the past month.
VicRoads data showed four crashes resulting in two serious injuries on the section between Dalry and Syme roads in the five years to 31 December, 2016, however that figure may be much higher according to people who regularly drive the road and live nearby.
Healesville SES Controller Geoff Stott whose team were involved intensively as the rescue operation played out, said their unit has been called out a couple of times very recently to that section of road.
“It’s a bad corner,” he said.
A local man who works regularly on the farm property adjacent to the crash scene estimated there was a crash or run-off on the corners every three weeks.
“Every time it rains, you can see where someone has gone off,” he told the Mail.
He said most times the people were lucky and ended up just being towed out of what could have been another tragedy.
The presumption is that these near-misses don’t make it to VicRoads’ database.
“People just come too fast and lose it on the corner,” he said, pointing out a scarred tree just metres from the devastation of Sunday’s fatality.
“That one got knocked down two weeks ago,” he said.
Just before Christmas, he said he went to the aid of an Upper Yarra woman travelling with three children who also had a lucky escape.
“She ran off on the other bend and it was just sheer luck that she missed the trees,” he said.
“It’s a particularly bad corner.”
LSC Lardner from Yarra Ranges Highway Patrol said the impacts of these types of crashes were horrendous and long-lived for the families of those killed and injured, and for others who by the nature of their work, their volunteer roles in emergency services, or who just happen to be at that place in time.
The carnage of a road crash is physically and emotionally confronting.
He said a number of people were given leaflets pointing them to road trauma support services.
“We had a man in his seventies, just trying to enjoy retirement … he stayed an hour with a poor girl in the back and he now has visions of that,” LSC Lardner said.
Mr Stott said for some of his older volunteers the scene had brought back memories of a crash on a bad bend on the Black Spur several years ago in which two local paramedics died.
“Two deceased and a tree hit in exactly the same way … that vision just came straight back,” he said.
“No road crash is good, but it seems particularly hard when you have younger people involved.”
Hillcrest CFA Captain Fiona Burns last week praised two local men who gave assistance until emergency services arrived.
“I commend them for what they did under such very trying circumstances,” she said.
LSC Lardner said while investigations are continuing into the circumstances of the Sunday 9 fatality, witness statements indicate that the vehicle was travelling under the speed limit.
He said there were many factors that needed to be looked at, including the impact of trucks on the road.
“It’s a heavily used piece of road for heavy vehicles and that needs to be taken into account by the (VicRoads) engineers who will be looking at this,” he said.
“It’s just a bad piece of road, it’s rippled on the corners and in the wet it throws the geometry of vehicles out and they start to slide.
“It can’t just be about speed all the time.”
VicRoads Regional Director Aidan McGann said they are investigating the road.
“We are working with Victoria Police to investigate the safety of this particular section of Healesville-Kooweerup Road and will explore opportunities to improve road safety in this area,” he said.
“Any loss of life on our roads has a devastating impact on all concerned,” Mr McGann said.
Police would like to hear from anyone who witnessed the crash. Phone Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or Yarra Ranges Highway Patrol on 9739 2300.