Date: 2021-12-12 08:22:15
“He was a really loved person, Max. He was a family man first, a businessman second and then he was a community man next,” Mr Dixon said.
“He donated and gave what he could to charities around the area and he just wanted to make you laugh. You walk past his old shop today and still say ‘how are you going Maxy?’ You still get hurt by it.”
Water had begun to flood the road from about 8.30pm on January 3, 2016.
Witness Madalin Duna told the coroner it appeared smooth, like glass, and she was unable to tell it apart from the asphalt.
At 10.27pm, Ms Duna called triple zero to alert them to the danger, offering to use her car to block the road until help arrived, but was told there was “no need for that”.
Between 11pm and 1am, police and SES volunteers attended the ford a number of times, phoning triple zero in an attempt to get council officers to attend. Each time the officers returned to the flooding event at the Goulburn Valley Highway on the other side of town, leaving the flooded ford unguarded.
One officer told the coroner he didn’t want to cut the sign padlocks and face having to explain to the council why he had damaged their property.
In a statement provided to the coroner, a council employee said she responded to flooding calls in the Seymour area before going to sleep between 10pm and 11pm. She said she was woken by her telephone about midnight requesting signage in Delatite Road.
A transcript of the call said someone had requested signage at Delatite Road about 10.30pm. The employee, who The Age has chosen not to name, told the operator she didn’t know if the job had been completed.
After hanging up, the employee messaged the council’s road maintenance coordinator, who provided the name of a person to call.
”Unfortunately, while [the employee] was putting her son to bed, she fell asleep herself without having sent anyone to the ford,” Mr Bracken said.
About 1.50am, Mr Loweke drove his Best Choice Bakery van into the ford, three and a half hours after the first call to council requesting signs be placed on Delatite Road and a little less than two hours after the employee was asked to deploy signage.
“Had Delatite Road been closed, or indeed the signs deployed shortly after 10.33pm, it is at least possible that Mr Loweke’s death would have been prevented,” Mr Bracken said.
Mr Loweke said knowing his friend’s death was preventable made coming to terms with what happened even more difficult.
“If someone or something had been there blocking the road he wouldn’t have gone that way,” he said.
Automatic water level detectors have since been installed at the ford to notify police and SES when flooding becomes deep.
Mitchell Shire Council has also changed the way it manages staff in charge of its after-hours response.
The coroner has recommended that emergency services now conduct more mock emergencies in regional areas and that when an emergency is being managed, all involved be explicitly informed of which organisation is in control.
He also called for those who are to be appointed incident controller or police commander roles during emergency events undergo formal risk assessment training.
A Victoria Police spokeswoman said the organisation would now review and consider the coronial findings.
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