Inquest into the death of Norman MacKenzie

Last week, Bicycle Network attended the two-day Victorian coronial inquest into the death of Norman MacKenzie, who tragically died from injuries sustained in a crash with a bike rider in 2017.

On 18 April 2017 at approximately 5:52 pm, Mr MacKenzie was crossing Jacka Boulevard in St Kilda from the beach side of the road, on a pedestrian crossing, when he was involved in a collision with Mr Jarel Remick who was riding his bike in the south-bound bike lane.

Mr MacKenzie fell to the ground, struck his head and passed away later in hospital. Mr Remick was also transported to hospital. Fortunately, he only suffered minor injuries.

No charges were laid against Mr Remick at the time. In response to the tragic death of Mr MacKenzie, his family called for bike registration as pedestrians injured in crashes with bike riders are not covered by the TAC.

The inquest set out to consider the circumstances surrounding the collision, the speed and the appropriateness of the speed of the bicycle before and at the point of the collision and the sequence of events leading to the crash including traffic light changes.

Over two days, the court heard from nine witnesses, including Mr Remick, in regards to the circumstances of the crash, traffic light sequencing and the injuries sustained by Mr MacKenzie.

VicRoads traffic light data revealed that the pedestrian crossing light had been red for 74 seconds when the crash occurred and that the traffic light which Mr Remick had ridden through was green. In analysing Mr Remick’s Garmin bike computer, it was revealed that just prior to the crash, he was travelling at 33.6km/h in a 60km/h speed zone. 

Four of the witnesses were present at the scene and three witnessed the crash. While they varied on specific details, all witnesses agreed that the southbound traffic on Jacka Boulevard was congested and either moving slowly or not at all.

Other witnesses included a Senior Constable from Victoria Police who attended the scene, a Signal Services Manager from VicRoads, a crash investigator, a medical doctor who spoke on the condition and injuries of Mr MacKenzie and Mr Remick.

When the doctor was asked whether the speed of the bicycle was a factor in the severity of the head injury sustained to Mr MacKenzie, she said that speed was not a contributing factor as the head injury did not occur at the initial impact but as a result of Mr MacKenzie’s subsequent fall after the crash. She stated that the type of head injury sustained by Mr MacKenzie can occur as the result of a high or low energy force, for example, someone simply falling over by losing balance, or tripping.

A visibly upset Mr Remick offered his condolences to the family members of Mr MacKenzie. Mr Remick spoke of his experience as a road rider and former racer, the upgrades and maintenance of his bike as well as his familiarity with riding along Jacka Boulevard.

Mr Remick stated that he has a close call with a pedestrian jaywalking at this crossing at least once a fortnight. Another witness also said he had seen another crash at the same location involving a person on foot and a person on a bike.

In questioning Mr Remick, the Coroner made a point of highlighting how Mr Remick knew the area was dangerous for pedestrians movements and still did not slow his speed further. He questioned whether Mr Remick was riding in a way to deal with the contingencies of pedestrian and car traffic in the area where both drivers and bike riders bear responsibility for more vulnerable road users. 

The Coroner also questioned whether the modifications and upgrades to Mr Remick’s bicycle were made to make it faster, the nature of his training ride and the behaviour it evoked.

In summary, three things seem clear from the evidence: Mr MacKenzie crossed when the pedestrian light was red, the cars were stopped due to traffic congestion and Mr Remick was riding his bicycle well below the speed limit of 60km/h.

The Coroner will now examine the evidence and formulate findings over the coming months.

Bicycle Network will also provide a written submission to assist the Coroner.

This submission will consider issues including the built environment on Jacka Boulevard and the appropriate speed of riding a bicycle travelling faster than motor vehicle traffic.

Another important issue for people who ride is the dangerous practice of pedestrians or vehicles crossing between banked up cars without considering that a bike rider or even motorcyclist could be travelling through. 

Fortunately, pedestrian fatalities that occur when struck by a person riding a bicycle are rare. Of the 186 pedestrian fatalities in Victoria in the five year period between 2014 and 2018, only two involved a bicycle. Nevertheless, we are naturally keen to assist the Coroner and do everything we can to make sure that there are no further tragedies.

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