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Safeguard Magazine

Aftermath—Rona Topia

Jane Devonshire, aged 19, was killed at work in August 2015 when the rubbish truck she was working on crashed on a steep suburban street in Birkenhead, Auckland. Four parties – rubbish contractors Veolia (formerly Onyx), truck owner Truck Leasing Ltd, mechanics NP Dobbe Maintenance, and Auckland Council – were charged under the HSE Act in relation to the accident. Three defendants admitted the charges; TLL pleaded not guilty but was convicted in October last year. JACKIE BROWN-HAYSOM talked to Jane’s mother, Rona Topia.

What was Jane’s role at work?

Jane was a runner on a rubbish truck. She jumped in and out of the truck, collecting rubbish bags. It was physically demanding work but she was fit.

How experienced was she in that line of work?

She’d been in the job for five months, but she was good at it. Everyone used to talk about how she’d taken on a couple of boys from Allied Workforce and beaten them.

Did she enjoy the role?

She loved her job. Most people wouldn’t like that sort of job but she did. I think it was because she got to know the different areas around the North Shore, and the different people. She always worked with a driver and had nicknames for all of them. I heard the drivers used to fight over her because she was full on – you could have a joke with her.

Did Jane ever express any concerns about safety at work?

The only time she had a safety concern was when she hurt her wrist, and that was just from picking up too many rubbish bags at one hit. She was just a real go-getter. You couldn’t stop her, no matter what.

How well did she know the driver she was with on the day of the crash?

He was one of the first drivers she worked with. He and Jane had built up a really good bond, so he took it hard – told his family he wished it was him that had died instead of her. I caught up with him at the restorative justice meeting, and that was really good because I was blaming him, until I actually got to talk to him.

What happened on the day she died?

Jane started work at 7am, but left around 6.15 to be there early and see what driver she was with.

I got a phone call from her supervisor about 11.50am. I knew him because he often used to drop Jane home, and he just said: “There’s been an accident but please be calm and don’t get upset. Don’t panic.”

I was worried, but didn’t find out what had happened until the police turned up around quarter past one. By then I’d made phone calls to the hospital, the boss, and the supervisor but got no answers, so it was just wait.

When the cops turned up I said: “Are you taking me to the emergency department or has my daughter passed?” They said: “She’s passed” and I collapsed in front of their car and screamed.

What did you learn about the accident?

The truck brakes failed and it ran off the road. She rolled under the truck and it crushed her.

When people went to help the driver was screaming out, asking where the girl was. I think that’s what freaked him out, because he couldn’t find her.

When they did find her they couldn’t pull her out because the truck was right on top of her. It crushed all her organs and broke every bone in her body.

We couldn’t even put her pretty dress on to bury her. She had to have a hoodie, because everything was just crushed and squashed.

What did you do after you heard the news?

I had to go and identify the body. I couldn’t do it the same day because they wanted to clean her up, so we went in the next day.

Her employer came round that day and asked what funeral director I was going through, but all I could remember was it was down a side street by Carl’s Jr. They [the employer] were really good. They paid for everything – the funeral, the catering and I think the plot where she was buried.

How has Jane’s death affected you?

For a long time I kept running away from this house. I couldn’t bear to be here on the weekends because of not having her here, not having her come in the door and go, “Hey what’s for tea?”

I couldn’t go in her room either. I kept the door shut for a while, but it’s open now, although we still shut it when we go out. Soon I’m going to get some cabinets and put all her stuff in them.

Over time this has gotten easier, but it’s still something I live with every day.

How has her wider family been affected?

It affected everyone around us when we lost Janey girl.

Her teenage brother started getting into trouble with the law towards Christmas in 2015 and I think it was because Jane was his role model. She was the one that encouraged him to get into work and do things, but he just went off the rails when she wasn’t there

The younger children, who were 6 and 10 when it happened, are both having counselling now. And she had eight adopted siblings – her auntie’s children from over the road. On Saturdays and Sundays she’d bring one of them over here to have time with them, and they all miss those times with her.

Jane was the only wage earner in the family, and on pay day she used to ring us and say: “I’m calling into the supermarket. Do you need anything?” We’d go: “No we don’t”, but she’d get all the snacks for the school lunches, for us and the cousins.

Did you attend the court hearings?

My partner and I organised it so one of us could be there every day.

Ned [Fletcher] and Charlie [Piho], the Crown lawyers, were awesome. When the trial for TLL started I got there early enough to talk with them before, and they were explaining how it all worked.

It drained me, going into town nearly every day, especially as I was organising Jane’s [headstone] unveiling at the same time. Ned and Charlie were like: you don’t have to be here every day. We’ll just ring you and let you know what’s going on, but it was good to be there and listen.

Do you have special plans for the reparations your received?

In this household money is for food and basics. Treats come once in a blue moon. But we’ve got the money in Jane’s account and we’re going to get passports and go to Paris. Jane would have wanted to go there.

Are you still in contact with any of those who were involved with the accident?

The police officers from the CVIU turned up about a month ago. They just wanted to see if I needed anything – just catch up because I hadn’t seen them during the court cases. And I still message the driver on Facebook now and again, to see how he’s doing.

If you could change one thing about the situation Jane faced on that day, what would it be?

I’d just want to say to the people be aware of your work environment properly. Check your truck twice. Make sure before you even get into it that the COF and all the maintenance has been done, and if things don’t look good, don’t do that run. Take it right back to the yard.

I have no grudges against Dobbe, Veolia or the council. It’s good knowing they’ve changed and are checking everything now. But like I said to them, if it wasn’t for this tragic accident I think things were just being put under the mat.

If one of them had said it’s not going out until it’s properly fixed I think Jane would still have been here. But at the end of the day you can’t bring her back. You just carry on and make sure other families are safer now.


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