A truck driver has been cleared of criminal negligence in causing the death of Johanna Boni, with the court ruling that a miscalculated manoeuvre by the motorcyclist when she tried to overtake the heavy vehicle had contributed to the fatal impact.
The tragic incident took place on January 5, 2016, on a busy morning at around 8am.
Carmel Cauchi, then 53, was driving a heavily loaded left-hand drive truck down Labour Avenue, Naxxar.
An eyewitness who was driving near the Technopark, heading in the direction of Naxxar had recounted seeing the heavy truck moving slowly in the opposite direction, a motorcycle stuck to its front.
“I don’t think he [truckdriver] realised he had run over the bike and rider,” recalled the witness, who was also an architect.
The motorcycle appeared “out of nowhere,” said the witness, explaining that he was not sure if the bike came from Naxxar or from behind the truck.
But the motorcyclist drove right around the truck “almost touching… right beneath it.”
As the motorcyclist tried to turn, the bike got caught under the truck’s front left wheel. The motorcyclist, he said, had hopped on the bike trying to dislodge the vehicle, but failed.
The victim tried to clutch onto the truck’s grill but the heavy vehicle went right over her and the bike.
Another eyewitness said that the bumper of the truck had touched the motorcycle, causing it to turn.
The victim’s body ended up some 27 metres away from the spot where the truck came to a standstill after dragging the motorcycle along with it.
Scratch marks along the road surface were caused by the bike as it was dragged along.
A police sergeant from the traffic section who reached the accident site soon after being alerted, recalled seeing human fragments and blood on the road.
The victim’s face had been "shattered" upon impact.
The officer had covered the lifeless body of the young woman with a plastic sheet.
The autopsy confirmed that the victim had abrasions compatible with dragging, as well as lacerations and fractures on the right leg and neck compatible with blunt trauma.
'I didn’t see her'
Another eyewitness recalled that the driver was in a state of shock, telling passersby who stopped to assist, that he thought that “a spring had snapped".
“I didn’t see her,” the man kept saying as people tried to calm him down before he was taken to hospital to be treated for shock.
A traffic expert appointed to assist in the magisterial inquiry reported that the incident had taken place at an hour when the thoroughfare was quite busy.
The truck driver was about to exit a stop sign when Boni overtook on the left, swerving to the right in the direction of Kind’s showroom.
The truck driver’s failure was in not keeping a proper lookout through his vehicle’s mirrors.
The driver was subsequently charged with involuntary homicide through careless, dangerous and reckless driving.
Another court expert who carried out road tests on the truck in the presence of the accused confirmed that the vehicle was in perfect condition.
The driver could see everything, from front to rear, the mirrors were all clean, the brakes were road worthy and responded immediately, and the steering wheel and brakes functioned 100%.
The load of cement had obviously affected its momentum especially when turning.
The inquiring magistrate had concluded that as Boni overtook the truck, her vehicle made contact with the truck’s wheel.
The driver did not realise until he heard dragging sounds and cars hooting, signalling him to stop.
Driver should have kept proper lookout
Although there was contributory negligence on the part of the victim, the driver should have kept a proper lookout, the inquiring magistrate had concluded, thus directing criminal action against Cauchi.
Since that tragic incident, road works were carried out in that area, replacing the T-junction with a roundabout.
The court held an onsite visit last June to better understand the dynamics of the incident.
When delivering judgment, Magistrate Nadine Lia observed that in light of expert conclusions and eyewitness testimonies, “in truth the truck driver could do nothing to know that the victim was going to attempt that manoeuvre which placed her life in such danger".
Unfortunately, Boni tried to overtake the heavily loaded vehicle rather than wait and follow slowly once the truck exited the stop sign.
She tried to overtake but miscalculated, made contact with the truck tyre and was dragged with such grave consequences.
With or without mirrors, the accident could not be avoided because it was the victim who drove the way she did to attempt overtaking and the court was morally convinced that the victim’s own actions had caused the accident.
The prosecution had failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt the truck driver’s criminal negligence.
The Boni family lawyers immediately gave the court notice of appeal.
Lawyers Arthur Azzopardi, Jacob Magri and Alessia Zammit McKeon were defence counsel.
Lawyers Michael and Lucio Sciriha and Roberto Spiteri appeared parte civile.