Launceston Magistrates Court hears details of Altus Traffic worker death

Terry Close.
Terry Close.

More than four years after his father was killed on the job, Trent Close has fronted the Launceston Magistrates Court to share how the tragedy impacted his life.

Terry Close was working as a traffic controller at Mowbray in 2013 when he was struck by a car. The 62-year-old died in hospital.

His employer, Altus Traffic, pleaded guilty after being charged with failing to comply with health and safety standards.

The details of the case were heard by Magistrate Sharon Cure on Thursday, with senior management from Altus Traffic seated in the rear of the court, each wearing a yellow road safety pin.

The court heard a number of factors played a part in Terry’s death.

On February 5, 2013, Terry was directing traffic while Tasmanian-based company Venarchie Contracting was undertaking crack sealing work for the Launceston City Council. 

He was standing in the middle of the road while trying to keep an eye on both the works behind him and the traffic coming towards him. During one of the moments he was looking back at the workers, Mayfield man Murray Higgs drove into him.

Trent Close leaving the Launceston Magistrates Court on Thursday. Picture: Scott Gelston.

Trent Close leaving the Launceston Magistrates Court on Thursday. Picture: Scott Gelston.

When Mr Higgs was later charged, his evidence was that he was looking down tuning his radio and did not see Terry until it was too late. Mr Higgs also claimed the roadwork signage was so far back from the site that he did not realise any workers were still on the road.

He went on to plead guilty to causing death by negligent driving and was sentenced to three months jail, wholly suspended.

In front of the court on Thursday, Mr Trent Close read out an emotional victim impact statement.

He said his father was his “backbone” and that when he died his “support system disappeared”.

“We were not just father and son, he was my best mate, we were mates,” he said.

Following his father’s death, Mr Close said he became a loner, started to self-medicate with alcohol and was placed on anti-depressants.

He said to this day, there was a “huge void” in his life and he “felt sick and lost” every Father’s Day.

Mr Close also told the court the company offered him counselling three years after the incident to which he replied “three years too late”.

“I felt like my dad’s life meant nothing to the company,” he said.

Defence lawyer Michael Harmer expressed “remorse and deep regret” on behalf of the company.

Turning to Mr Close, who remained seated in the back of the court throughout the full day of proceedings, Mr Harmer said the company had been devastated by the incident.

“Thank you for your courage and your frankness and reminding us all how critical this matter is,” he said to Mr Close.

Mr Harmer said there was no denying the company had “let Terry down”, but he suggested it was the failure of others that had also contributed to his death.

He said the company acknowledged that Terry was standing in the middle of the road, that signage was placed some distance from the site and that Terry and another Altus Traffic employee were not trained adequately. But he said it was “incredible” that despite the flashing lights, workers in high-visibility clothing and roadwork signs urging drivers to slow down, Mr Higgs did not see Terry until the moment he struck him.

“To this day … in all honesty … we cannot fathom how this happened,” he said.

“We’re not saying we’re not culpable, we’re saying our culpability has to be in context.”

Venarchie Contracting was also charged with health and safety breaches, but was found not guilty last year.

Magistrate Sharon Cure said she would need at least six weeks to read through documents relating to the Altus Traffic case, before she could reach a decision. The company faces a penalty of up to $1.5 million.

The matter was adjourned for sentencing on November 13. Following Thursday’s appearance, Altus Traffic chief executive Jeff Doyle released a statement.

“In 2013, we lost our valued colleague Terry Close in a workplace accident and our thoughts and prayers go out to his family,” he said.

“While Terry was hit by a speeding, distracted motorist, we have accepted our part in the tragedy and pleaded guilty to failing to provide a sufficiently safe workplace. We will continue to work as a business to protect our colleagues on the roads and we ask motorists to please pay attention so we can get you all home safely.”