Sunderland coroner calls for gritting review after icy road death crash

Jonathan Burke, who died following a collision on the A1231 in Washington
Jonathan Burke, who died following a collision on the A1231 in Washington
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A CORONER has called for a council to review its gritting services after a man died on an icy road which police said had not been treated.

Electrician Jonathan Burke was killed after his Renault Clio hit an ambulance, which had stopped to deal with a road smash in Washington.

The 21-year-old was taken to Sunderland Royal Hospital following the collision at 7.30am on November 4, but died that afternoon due to a fractured skull and pelvis.

An inquest into his death heard investigating officers found no grit on a 1,000- metre stretch of the A1231, despite a gritter travelling the road twice.

Now Sunderland coroner Derek Winter has ordered the city council to report back to him on its gritting procedures and policies, in a bid to prevent future deaths.

Speaking at the hearing, Mr Winter said: “Road conditions were a significant factor in this incident. Speed was not an issue.

“The road was subject to a heavy covering of frost and ice and the evidence that I have heard, while there was the presence of a gritter on both sides of the highway, there was not physical evidence on the examination of the highway that this carriageway had been subject to effective gritting.

“That is not to say the local authority or the driver of the gritter were to think otherwise.”

The court heard that a police dog handler reported the road as being unsafe due to wintery weather at 4am.

Northumbria Police contacted Sunderland City Council, but got through to a security guard and a gritter was not sent out until workers clocked on at 6am.

Ian Richardson, assistant head of Street Scene at the council, was at a loss to explain why no grit was found on the road, as a warning light on the gritter’s dashboard should have alerted the driver if it was not working properly.

Mr Burke’s grieving family also raised concerns over delays in police arriving at the initial accident, when three men escaped with minor injuries after an Astra hit a lamppost.

Traffic cop Paul MacGee was dispatched from his base at South Shields, but took 20 minutes to arrive as part of the A1231 was closed for roadworks.

Pc MacGee told the court that beat officers from Sunderland would only have been sent out if the situation was life threatening.

Representing Northumbria Police, barrister Caroline Goodwin argued that even if the main road was open, the officer still would not have arrived in time to cone off the parked ambulance.

“You received the call at 7.30am. By 7.39am, the accident had already taken place. Your attendance would have had no real bearing in this unhappy situation,” she said.

She also asked the council why gritters could not have other methods of monitoring to see if grit was being dispensed.

“It is an onerous task upon the driver of the gritter to drive the vehicle 
carefully and keep an eye on the warning light.

“He is not sitting over the spinner. In the same way some buses have CCTV to help them reverse, there is no CCTV to monitor the displacement of grit.”

The coroner recorded that the death of Mr Burke, The Parks, Chester-le-Street, was accidental.

Verdict: Accident