Dargaville mechanic who approved car before fatal crash denies improper vehicle inspection

Dargaville mechanic who approved car before fatal crash denies improper vehicle inspection
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The Northland mechanic who issued a Warrant of Fitness (WoF) to an "unsafe" car which was later involved in a deadly crash has denied improperly inspecting the vehicle's seatbelts.

Dargaville Diesel Specialists (DDS) issued the WoF to the vehicle in December 2017. On January 6, 2018  the vehicle lost control and crashed into a ditch on State Highway 12 near Dargaville.

William Ball, 65, was a passenger in the front seat of the car. He was injured in the crash and died 26 days later. The driver has pleaded guilty to driving-related charges and is awaiting sentencing.

A police investigation found that Mr Ball's seatbelt was in frayed condition and had failed to function properly during the crash.

In a press release on Wednesday, the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) said DDS had already admitted the car's WoF had been issued without a proper vehicle inspection, and said mechanics had neglected the seatbelts in particular.

But owner Rodney Wilson denies allegations of an improper inspection.

"When I had my so-called interview with the NZTA inspectors, I never admitted anything I said I couldn't remember," he told Newshub.

"If the seatbelts were in that bad a condition, I would never have passed the vehicle."

NZTA says the circumstances which led to Mr Ball's death were "totally unacceptable".

"DDS didn't check the vehicle properly," chief executive Fergus Gammie says.

"They failed William Ball. However, the NZTA's regulatory regime also failed him, and that is unacceptable."

The release says NZTA was aware of a number of regulatory compliance issues with DDS since 2011, and had several opportunities to take action against the mechanics.

Just weeks before the crash that killed Mr Ball, NZTA had observed DDS staff issuing warrants without properly inspecting vehicles, including seatbelts.

Mr Wilson admits a staff member had been involved in passing vehicles that shouldn't have been certified as road-safe.

"I had one man [issuing improper warrants] and he was fired," he told Newshub.

Mr Gammie says NZTA did not take decisive action when it witnessed the behaviour at DDS, nor did it "appropriately escalate the issue internally".

DDS was eventually suspended from issuing any vehicle certifications in August 2018.

He says major changes are happening within NZTA, meaning it will take a tougher stance on regulatory non-compliance in the future.

"What happened in Dargaville is an example of how our previous high-trust, education-focused regulatory regime has failed New Zealanders."


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