Jim Freeman was just 10 kilometres from the end of a six-day cycling tour around the North East when he was hit by a delivery van and killed at Devenish.
The driver, 33-year-old Delacombe man Timothy Scott, was on Wednesday committed to stand trial on six charges including dangerous driving causing death and reckless conduct.
He appeared in Wangaratta Magistrates Court where he pleaded not guilty.
Mr Freeman and a friend were cycling on Benalla-Yarrawonga Road on March 24, 2017, when he was allegedly struck from behind by Scott’s Volkswagen Caddy van.
Graham Staples had been cycling with Mr Freeman since the 1990s and usually rode in front because he was stronger on the hills.
His bike was about 30 metres ahead when heard the car coming up from behind.
“From the sound I didn’t sense any danger because the noise was constant, it didn’t sound like it was speeding,” Mr Staples said.
“There was plenty of room to go around.”
Then he heard what he told police was an “almighty bang”.
Mr Staples called triple-zero and tried to perform CPR on his friend, but could not save him.
“The driver came up to me and wanted to talk, but I was in a state of numbness, of disbelief and I wasn’t in any state – I didn’t want to talk to him,” he said.
The pair had been riding to Benalla to catch the train back home to Melbourne.
Defence barrister Jacob Kantor questioned if Mr Freeman would have been in the centre or edge of the road.
Mr Staples said cyclists were careful to look after themselves.
“I assume he’d be near the edge because Jim was pretty conscious of safety,” he said.
“It’s not just looking forward, your whole senses are aware of what’s going on.”
Mr Kantor told the court Scott had seen the cyclist and moved his van towards the centre line to overtake.
“I slowly applied the brake as I approached them,” Scott said in his police statement.
“I have momentarily lost control of the vehicle, it felt like it was pulling to the right.”
Mr Kantor said Scott was scared he would crash into trees to the right of the road and took his eyes off the cyclists to correct his steering before the crash.
Senior Constable Brett Gardiner from the Victorian Police mechanical investigation unit inspected the van and found no faults to explain why it would pull to the right.
He said the van would have been unroadworthy because of wear to the tyre tread, but satisfactory for the clear, dry conditions on the day.
Tests on the van showed it could stop in a straight line when brakes were applied and the ABS was working.
Austin Thompson stopped to help after the cash last year when he saw the bicycle lying in the gutter next to the road.
He said he overheard the van driver tell someone else “I’ve lost control and skidded sideways”.
Detective Sergeant Robert Hay from the Major Collision Investigation Unit gave evidence that damage to the van showed it had been travelling in a straight line at a 84km/h in the 100km/h zone when it hit the rear of the bicycle.
There was a mark on the road at the point of collision, but no skid marks from the tyres.
“There was no emergency evidence of emergency braking before impact,” Sergeant Hay said.
Detective Senior Constable Leigh Miller said another witness “saw the cyclist be thrown into the air” on impact.
“You have to take due care and attention to all other road users,” Senior Constable Miller said.
“He’s seen those cyclists … yet he’s still managed to impact that cyclist and kill him.
“His manner of driving was dangerous.”
Mr Kantor said the crash was a “mere error of judgement” when Scott overcorrected his steering and asked the major charge to be struck out.
“Sometimes accidents happen … There’s not always a criminal element” he said.
“People do not always drive as they should and even the best drivers lose concentration for a minute and make minor mistakes.”
But Mr Hayward said that issue should be decided by a jury.
“That failure to pay attention could have been five to 10 seconds,” he said.
“In circumstances where he knew there were two cyclists in front of him … he had an even higher duty to pay attention.”
Magistrate Fran Medina ruled there was enough evidence to send the case to trial in the County Court and adjourned the case for a directions hearing in Wangaratta next week.
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