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Trucking firm facing $5m fines over crash deaths of four VicPol officers

The shattered Connect Logistics truck is lifted off the bodies of the four VicPol officers in April 2020.

The shattered Connect Logistics truck is lifted off the bodies of the four VicPol officers in April 2020. Photo: AAP

A trucking company is facing multi-million dollar fines stemming from the deaths of four police officers, but the firm’s managing director will not be jailed for his role overseeing serious safety law breaches.

A Sydney court heard on Thursday the officers’ deaths were avoidable if the company’s own workplace safety practices were properly implemented in Victoria, where the tragedy took place.

In some cases employees were working 20-hour days while driving trucks around the Melbourne metro area, placing themselves and the public at considerable risk, the court heard.

Connect Logistics and Corey Matthews pleaded guilty earlier this year to charges brought by the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator following the 2020 incident.

One of the company’s semi-trailers slammed into the officers after they pulled over a Porsche driven by Richard Pusey on Melbourne’s Eastern Freeway.

Truck driver Mohinder Singh was fatigued and high on methamphetamine at the time of the crash. He is serving more than 18 years behind bars.

Multiple breaches

Investigators scoured Connect’s workplace safety practices following the disaster and found multiple breaches, including drivers working dangerously long hours.

On several occasions, Melbourne supervisor and driver Simiona Tuteru worked more than 20 hours a day and falsified logs to cover his tracks, a fact allegedly known by several of the company’s managers in Victoria.

Signs that Singh was unfit to drive in the lead-up to the crash were also ignored, including blatant discrepancies in time sheets he filled out that were signed off by Tuteru.

The heavy-vehicle regulator alleged Connect Logistics, which is no longer operating, contravened its duties by exposing the public to a risk of death or serious injury by failing to ensure drivers were assessed and monitored for fatigue and drugs and alcohol.

Millions in potential fines

Prosecutors told a court the breaches were the most serious of their type with Connect facing combined fines of over $5 million, while Matthews could personally be forced to pay over $50,000.

However, he does not face any jail time.

Matthews oversaw the company’s national operations from Sydney and was charged for failing to exercise due diligence.

Leading Senior Constable Lynette Taylor, Constable Glen Humphris, Senior Constable Kevin King and Constable Josh Prestney were killed in the crash.

Prosecutor Jennifer Single told Downing Centre Local Court on Thursday the fact that Singh was allowed to drive on the night of the crash showed a complete breakdown in systems intended to protect public health and safety.

Singh failed to undergo mandatory medical testing after being re-hired by the company, which Ms Single said could have flagged him as being unfit to drive.

“It’s a very real possibility that if he’d been given drug and alcohol testing his meth use would have been picked up,” she said.

The court was told multiple people raised issues with Singh’s fitness to drive in the days before the crash.

Singh was called in for a meeting with Mr Tuteru on the day of the crash and admitted that he was unfit to drive.

‘Told him he was fit to drive’

Rather than immediately standing Singh down until he could be medically assessed, as was Connect’s policy, Mr Tuteru instead searched Singh’s car for “voodoo dolls or any signs of witchcraft”.

“He then told him he was fit to drive, put him in a truck, and sent him on his way,” Ms Single said.

“Very soon after, the four police officers died.”

Const Prestney’s mother and father and Const Humphris’ partner were in court for the hearing, which continues.

Executives Cris Large and Shane Chalmers also faced charges, with Chalmers pleading guilty and a trial regarding Mr Large’s involvement scheduled for judgment in mid-December.

A sentence for Connect and Matthews is due on Friday.

-AAP

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