Moree hero truck driver Jimmy Bateman has welcomed the news that the Queensland government is suing for almost $8 million in damages after part of a QLD highway and railway bridge were badly damaged when a road train exploded in 2014.
Mr Bateman was one of eight people injured during the two explosions, which occurred on September 9, 2014 after a prime mover veered off the Mitchell Highway, near Charleville, QLD.
The QLD government last week launched a lawsuit in the Brisbane Supreme Court claiming more than $7.8 million in damages, the estimated cost of building a temporary detour, and inspected the area to ensure it was safe, as well as replacing the road and railway bridge.
It is holding the trucking company, Kalari Proprietary Limited, road train driver Anthony David Eden and insurer Dornoch Limited responsible for the repair bill.
Mr Bateman, who suffered life-changing injuries during the explosion, wholeheartedly supports the lawsuit, and said the QLD government is “on the right track”.
“I thought, ‘it’s the best news I ever heard’,” he said.
The Moree truck driver was the second on the scene after the B-double truck, carrying more than 52 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, had crashed off the Angellala Creek Bridge on the Mitchell Highway and burst into flames. According to court documents, the prime mover caught fire about 9.50pm and Mr Eden steered off the highway, causing it to hit a guard rail near the bridge and roll onto its side in the dry creek bed.
Mr Eden had managed to get out of the truck’s cabin and crawl up onto the bridge. When Mr Bateman and the other truck driver on the scene, Timothy Bunyen, came across the crash, they chose to stay and administer first aid to the injured driver.
Not long after four Queensland Fire and Emergency Services firefighters arrived, the burning truck exploded. A second explosion and shockwave quickly followed, causing extensive damage to the surrounding area.
Mr Bateman, Mr Bunyen, Mr Eden and the four firefighters sustained significant injuries, being only 30 metres from the exploding vehicle.
Amazingly, all survived the explosion – the biggest ever in peacetime Australia, which was felt up to 80km away.
Mr Bateman, who was thrown 70 feet, was most seriously injured.
As a result, he lost the tip of his ring finger, his middle finger was amputated and his index finger on his left hand was shattered.
He fractured a bone in his neck, damaged tendons in his knees and ankles, suffered burns and grazes, and both eardrums were blown.
He now only has 40 per cent of his hearing.
It has been a long, and expensive, road to recovery for Mr Bateman, who still feels the impact of his injuries on a daily basis.
“I’m not real good at hearing,” he said.
“I can’t cop it. It makes it hard communicating with people because I can’t hear them. I always have to ask people to repeat themselves.”
Mr Bateman also has to wear a glove to bed at night to protect his amputated middle finger, which gets cold as a result of the loss of nerves and tissues.
The local hero, who has received a number of bravery awards for his actions that night, including a Star of Courage and a Royal Humane Society of Australasia gold medal for bravery, believes the QLD government has every right to sue for the explosion.
In its statement of claim, the government alleges the driver, Mr Eden, had started work before 8am and had been driving for more than 12 hours. By law, he should take at least an hour break during a 12-hour shift, but the government alleges he did not. In doing so, the government claims Mr Eden should be held liable for “failing to exercise the degree of care and attention that would have enabled him to observe the fire sooner and bring the road train safely to a stop”.
The trucking company has also been accused of failing to train Mr Eden in the proper response to vehicle fires, of maming the wrong decision by using trailers made from aluminium for transporting the ammomium nitrate, and of not properly maintaining vehicles and equipment.
Mr Eden has not been held solely responsible for the fire outbreak, with the most likely cause identified by investigators as a mechanical fault, such as an overheating tyre.
Mr Bateman believes fatigue was largely responsible for the crash, based on the conversation he had with Mr Eden when he came across the injured driver, and from information he’s gathered since the event.
“I asked him, had he had a meal in Charleville and he said ‘no, I went straight through’,” he said. “I said, ‘what happened here’ and he said nothing.”
In response to the government’s claims, the defendants point out the police report did not identify a definitive reason for the truck veering off the highway, and did not conclude fatigue was a factor. The defendants also argue that Workplace Health and Safety Queensland investigations did not identify any breaches in terms of driver training or vehicle maintenance.
Meanwhile, a Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy investigation found vehicle maintenance was not an issue as it was regularly maintained.
The DNR could not determine what caused the initial fire due to key evidence being destroyed in the explosion and resulting fire.
The matter will return to the Brisbane Supreme Court on January 16.