Still no coroner's report three years after accident. Probe into sports editor's death centres on possible car defect

By Rob Shaw, Times Colonist December 27, 2009 6:36 AM

A B.C. coroner's report that may contain important safety information about a popular brand of car remains unfinished more than three years after a fatal accident on the Malahat.

The lengthy investigation centres on a possible defect in Infiniti sedans that may have contributed to the death of Times Colonist sports editor Gavin Fletcher.

Fletcher was driving a 1991 Infiniti when he crashed near the Malahat's Big Rock lookout during a rainy night on Dec. 11, 2006.

Authorities believe his car hydroplaned in the water, spun backwards, slid across the highway and collided with a rock wall with its back end. He and the driver's seat were violently ejected through the rear windshield. Although he'd been wearing a seatbelt and driving the speed limit, Fletcher was killed instantly.

The accident was likely caused by the weather, but Fletcher's death may have been partially the result of a mechanical failure in the car, the coroner's service said in 2007.

Despite the potential implications for thousands of people who drive that particular vehicle, the coroner's office has still not finished its investigation, nor has it issued any safety bulletin or public recommendations in the wake of the fatal crash.

It's an unusually long time to wait for a file to conclude, admitted Jeff Dolan, executive director of regional operations for the B.C. Coroner's Service.

"Yes it was a complex investigation, and yes we did require special consultation with the Transportation Safety Board, but that being said, the investigation has gone on much longer than what's expected by this office," said Dolan.

"Once it's completed, I'll be looking into what took so long."

Dolan said he's asked Lyn Blenkinsop, acting Island regional coroner, to make the case a priority and conclude it quickly.

The investigation had been overseen by Rose Stanton, the Island's previous regional coroner. But she left her job in December, and it's unclear who, if anyone, took over the file. A standing request from the Times Colonist for a completed copy of Fletcher's report was also somehow lost by the coroner's service when Stanton left the job.

The silence, delay and apparent confusion from the coroner's service has angered Fletcher's widow, Natalie Fletcher.

Other people who drive Infiniti cars should be aware of the potential safety problem, she said.

"It's not acceptable because [the coroner's report] could save lives," she said. "If people get the information out there about that year and that make [of car], they could do something about it."

Fletcher has tried e-mailing the coroner's service to ask for updates on her late husband's file, but said she never received a reply.

In one way, Fletcher said she'd rather not know the details about how the father of her two children died that night while driving home to Nanaimo.

"But in all fairness to him and all other people who have cars like that, I'd like to find out," she said.

The '91 Infiniti has a record of safety problems.

The model was one of more than 900,000 Japanese- and Korean-made cars in Canada that were subject to a recall in 1995 because broken pieces of the seatbelt release button could jam the locking device, preventing it from locking properly.

rfshaw@tc.canwest.com

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