In a tragedy widely covered in Australia last year, a family of five was drowned when the car in which they were travelling had plunged into a huge abyss on a highway. Now it turns out that Adam Holt who was driving the car was drunk at the time and also had topped it up with drugs.
Forensic pharmacologist Dr Judith Perl told Glebe Coroners' Court in Sydney Monday that blood samples from the body of Adam Holt showed he was just over the legal blood alcohol limit for driving - at .052.
Holt, 30, his partner Roslyn Bragg, 29, their daughters Madison, two, and Jasmine, three, and Ms Bragg's nine-year-old nephew Travis, died after their car plunged into a collapsed culvert at Piles Creek, at Somersby on the New South Wales Central Coast, during heavy rains on June 8 last year.
Dr Perl told the inquest into their deaths that Holt also had a reading of .006 for tetrahydrocannabinol, indicating recent cannabis use, and that this alone would have resulted in "some impairment" to his driving.
"The effect of alcohol is to slow reaction times. The effect of cannabis too is to slow reaction times," she told Deputy State Coroner Paul MacMahon.
"The combination of the two would be much greater than expected."
Ms Bragg had also tested positive for alcohol and cannabis use, Dr Perl said.
The inquest was told the incident happened about 3.30pm, when it was raining heavily, and Holt was driving with his lights on.
At least two vehicles had already stopped on the other side of the chasm, one with its hazard lights on, and at least two people were standing on the roadside.
The court heard Holt's vehicle was travelling at approximately 50km/h and there was no indication of braking until the car began skidding just metres before the collapsed section.
The car plunged into floodwaters and the five were drowned.
A NSW Police Force crash scene investigator told the inquest a re-creation of the crash indicated the deep hole in the roadway would have been visible when Holt was up to 100 metres away.
"That is the actual distance of the line-of-sight," Leading Senior Constable Aram Kraefft said.
He also calculated the stopping distance required, given the vehicle was travelling slightly uphill and in the wet.
Snr Const Kraefft said that if the vehicle was travelling at 50kmh, the driver could have reacted and then braked to a halt in a minimum of 40 metres.
If it had been doing 70kmh then the minimum stopping distance would have been just under 70 metres - but still within the 100 metres.
"Vehicles stopped in the middle of the road would increase your awareness of what's going on," Snr Const Kraefft added.
"You would be on a higher state of alertness as to any dangers that could be around."
The inquiry has previously heard that both local and state authorities had been aware for years that the section of road that collapsed was deteriorating, news agency AAP repots.