Driver's seat flawed, contributed to crash in death of Times Colonist sports editor: Coroner's report

By Rob Shaw, Times Colonist February 25, 2010 2:24 PM

Critical problems with the driverís seat of a Nissan sedan directly led to the death of Times Colonist sports editor Gavin Fletcher, during a 2006 crash on the Malahat, a report by the B.C. Coroners Service concludes.

However, investigators stopped short of recommending the failure be fixed in other vehicles, because doing so could actually increase the number of injuries that occur in more common types of crashes, states the report.

Fletcher was driving a 1991 Nissan Infiniti when he crashed near the Malahat's Big Rock lookout during a rainy night on Dec. 11, 2006. He was returning home to Nanaimo after a work shift in Victoria. The father of two was driving the speed limit and wearing his seatbelt.

Authorities believe his car lost control in the rainwater on the road, spun backwards, slid across the highway. The carís back end collided with a rock wall.

The driverís seat snapped into a reclined position on impact, eliminating the protection of the seatbelt system and ejecting Fletcher backwards through the rear window, the coronerís office concludes, based on work done by the road safety divison of Transport Canada.

ďThe investigation showed that the failure of the seatback of the driverís seat led directly to the fatal injuries suffered by Mr. Fletcher,Ē reads the report.

Regional coroner Lyn Blenkinsop didnít recommend the problems found in the Nissan car be fixed because to do so would mean strengthening the seats.

A stronger seatback would increase the risk of soft-tissue whip-lash type injuries in low-speed rear-end collisions, which are far more common than high-speed rear-end crashes, she states in the report. While regulators in Canada and the United States have been concerned about seat failures for at least 35 years, their data is limited because rear-facing accidents cause fewer than two per cent of moderate to severe injury accidents, she wrote.

The report, which is one and a half pages long, single-spaced, took the coronerís serivce three years and two months ó or 1,158 days ó to complete.

The lengthy delay was not necessarily due to the complex investigation, but was, in fact, due to administrative problems and case backlogs within the coronerís service, said Jeff Dolan, executive director of regional operations.

ďWeíve communicated this to the family of Mr. Fletcher and we have to acknolwedge this was not acceptable,Ē said Dolan.

Although the coronersí report cites specific failures within the Nissan car, it is unclear if the agency actually informed the automaker of the problems.

Dolan said he believes there was at least some communication with Nissan ó but the company disagrees.

ďAs of now, it looks like nobody is aware of it,Ē Didier Marsaus, Nissanís senior manager of communications, told the Times Colonist in an e-mail statement.

The company declined further comment on what, if anything, it has done to address the issued raised by the coroners service. More than 15,000 Nissan Infiniti sedans were sold in North America in 1991.

rfshaw@tc.canwest.com

This story has been changed to include correct information

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