A Sydney truck driver who collided head-on with a car driven by a grandfather and his elderly parents, killing them instantly, was heavily affected by methadone and had been involved in a string of drug-related driving incidents, a court has heard.
Vincent Samuel George, 34, is facing three manslaughter charges in the Parramatta District Court over the deaths of Calvyn Logan, 59, and his parents Donald and Patricia Logan, both in their 80s, on January 24, 2012.
He has pleaded not guilty to all three charges.
In the opening of the judge-alone trial on Monday, the court heard that the Logans had been travelling north along the Hume Highway near Menangle after visiting relatives when Mr George’s B-double, travelling at 100km/h in the opposite direction, suddenly veered across a 15-metre grass median strip and collided with their red Ford Mondeo.
“The prime mover went over the top of the Mondeo before it and the Mondeo hit the railings [on the side of the road],” Crown prosecutor Philip Hogan said.
The impact of the truck crushed the entire front section of the sedan, killing all three in the car.
Mr Hogan said there was a dispute as to why the experienced driver had suddenly veered across the road.
Some witnesses stated it appeared to be completely without reason, while others said he had swerved to avoid another car that was overtaking a P-plater.
Mr George said he had in fact swerved to avoid the P-plate driver and had suddenly lost control.
However, there was no dispute that, after the accident, from which Mr George escaped unharmed, a blood analysis revealed a methadone level of 0.18mg per litre.
“The accused is not a registered person under the government methadone program and therefore his use was unlawful,” Mr Hogan said.
He said there would be expert evidence during the trial that such a dose could be fatal to a person who had not developed a tolerance to the drug. For someone who was a regular user it would at least have “a very significant impairment on driving skills”.
Mr Hogan told the court that Mr George had a significant prior history of driving under the influence of drugs, including methadone. This included a serious accident four months to the day before the fatal crash when he rolled another B-double truck he was driving in the Riverina region of NSW.
On that occasion Mr George had recorded a methadone-blood level of 0.05. The authorities had been under the mistaken impression that Mr George was a registered methadone user and had allowed him to continue driving.
The court heard that just two months later – 50 days before the Logans’ death – Mr George had suffered a black-out while loading tiles. A subsequent blood test in hospital again revealed the presence of methadone.
The driver also had a previous conviction for driving while under the influence of drugs, Mr Hogan said.
Despite this, the court heard, Mr George told police after the accident that he had not taken any “medication” or drugs of any kind since taking a dose of the drug known as speed two weeks before.
The court heard that, in addition to the drug use, Mr George had been suffering from fatigue at the time of the fatal collision, the result of his driving for the previous 22 hours with rests of just 4½ hours.
His driver’s log stated that he had been in the middle of an a “eight-hour rest period” at the time the accident occurred, something that Mr Hogan described as “clearly incorrect”.
An inspection of the truck found that its brakes were not functioning properly, and that its speed delimiter had been altered so that the vehicle could travel above the 100 km/h speed limit.
The Crown alleges that Mr George is guilty of manslaughter either on the grounds of criminal negligence, or, alternatively, on the grounds of an unlawful and dangerous act.
Mr Hogan said that Mr George had a duty of care to other road users and must have known, at the very least, that driving at speed under the influence of a large dose of methadone while significantly fatigued meant there was a high risk that someone would be killed or grievously injured.
Mr George has pleaded guilty to three counts of dangerous driving occasioning death but these pleas were rejected by the Crown.
Mr Hogan said that a key issues in the trial would be what happened immediately prior to the fatal collision, how much methadone Mr George had taken, and the influence of this dose on the accused.
The case continues.