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Army apologises

The fatal crash scene in August 2017. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

17 months after local man’s death

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The army has publicly apologised for its handling of the death of Masterton man Warren Carter, who died in August 2017 when the car he was travelling in was hit by a Unimog truck with a trainee driver at the wheel.

Major General John Boswell. PHOTO/STEVE RENDLE

Head of the Army Major General John Boswell travelled to Masterton on Thursday to speak to the Times-Age at the request of Warren’s wife, Joan, who was in the passenger seat when the couple’s car was hit by the truck driven by Dayne Pennington after it failed to give way at an intersection near Ashhurst.

Pennington admitted a charge of careless driving causing death in February last year, but was discharged without conviction after a victim impact statement and request to the judge from Joan.

She said the family was clear in what it wanted to achieve after the accident, a fight to get the army to acknowledge its poor response.

“Our six kids and I all agreed that nobody should be charged – Dayne Pennington shouldn’t be the scapegoat. He was only part of the whole thing.

“And we felt that the army should change its policy so that other families in this situation don’t go through what we did.

“We wanted an apology for the lack of respect for us as human beings. The lack of compassion.”

Last week Boswell was frank in his assessment of how the army had acted.

“We let ourselves down,” he said.

“We’re incredibly sorry for the death of Mr Carter.

“The simple fact is that the death occurred as a result of driver error.

“What I will apologise for is the incredibly poor lack of empathy, the poor communications we established with the Carter family in the period immediately post the accident.”

He said army family liaison staff would be appointed immediately after any such accidents in future.

Joan said a public apology was appropriate given the community interest in the case.

“Warren was well known in the community.

“People still come up to me and ask what the army has done about it.”

The crash was the subject of a police serious crash investigation and an army court of inquiry that was reconvened twice.

In the police report, Pennington was quoted as saying he was instructed to use his left foot for braking, a technique outside New Zealand Transport Authority guidelines.

That raised questions about what had caused the crash.

“We were aware of this and that is why we deliberately reopened the court of inquiry, deliberately went through a process to investigate those claims,” Boswell said.

“The court was reopened to clarify without doubt what technique was taught and what technique was employed.

“It was fully appropriate on both counts.”

He said he was “100 per cent” certain that was the case.

“I can only emphasise again – he was not taught it, he did not employ it, there was miscommunication at the time of the investigation.”

Pennington was re-interviewed when the court of inquiry was reconvened for the first time, and Boswell said it was determined that the left-foot braking referred to the truck’s exhaust brake, a button at the base of the seat, rather than the pedal brake.

The court was reopened for a second time to formally admit into evidence the police serious investigation report.

Boswell said he wanted to give the community “visibility of the circumstances around the death of Mr Carter, so that they have a full understanding of what occurred”.

But several avenues to investigate the crash have not been taken.

The government agency responsible for safety in the workplace, WorkSafe, would not investigate the crash, despite Pennington being under the control of an instructor at the time.

And last week the coroner’s office closed the file without conducting a full hearing, on the basis that the “causes and circumstances surrounding this death” had been dealt with by a district court judge.

Joan says she is disappointed but not entirely surprised by the decision.

“I thought the coroner’s hearing would bring out some of the questions that would have been asked if there had been a defended court case,” she said.

“It has been a sense of closure.

“I think I thought the coroner’s hearing would have been the final step . . . I think I have to accept that the final step is now.”

Pennington remains in the army and is currently stationed in Iraq.

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