A police officer who died in a Hunter Valley crash in 2016 was driving at high speed to deploy road spikes ahead of a police chase when his car crashed into a tree, killing him instantly, an inquest has heard.
Sergeant Geoffrey Richardson, 43, was on duty at Raymond Terrace police station just after 11pm on March 5, 2016, when a suspected stolen car that had led officers on a chase two days earlier was spotted.
Police began a pursuit, and Sergeant Richardson offered his assistance because he was the only officer within range who had road spikes and knew how to use them.
He travelled on back roads trying to intercept the chase – which was briefly called off when officers lost sight of the car in a forest – and was driving on Lovedale Road at Allandale, seven kilometres from the pursuit, just before 11.47pm.
Investigators estimate his speed was between 136km/h and 151km/h on a downhill stretch of the 80km/h road when he failed to negotiate a sweeping left-hand bend and hit a tree.
Officers in a second police car, about 30 seconds behind him, stopped to help but he had died from his injuries.
An inquest into the death opened at the NSW Coroner's Court in Glebe on Tuesday and is expected to hear from eight witnesses over three days.
Counsel assisting the coroner, Tim Hammond, said Sergeant Richardson was a much-loved and well-respected family man who died in tragic circumstances doing a job he loved.
Mr Hammond said crash investigators had ruled out mechanical problems, debris on the road, weather, drugs and alcohol, fatigue and a medical episode as causes of the crash.
The investigators concluded Sergeant Richardson did not allow sufficient braking distance to go around the bend.
"Excessive speed was considered to be the main contributing factor," Mr Hammond said.
Barrister Ray Hood, representing the NSW Police Commissioner, said Sergeant Richardson became lost, tried to catch up to where he thought he could intercept the chase, and his speed became such that he lost control.
"He was told, 'You're now way behind'," Mr Hood said.
"The fact he tries to catch up ... was a matter for his judgment at the time. His judgment clearly was wrong."
A barrister representing Sergeant Richardson's father and brother said the pursuit "should have been terminated" on several occasions in accordance with NSW Police policy. However, it was not.
The chase continued for about a minute after the crash, when it was called off by one of the pursuing vehicles.
The inquest will examine if there were any breaches of police policy on safe driving; if Sergeant Richardson's involvement in the pursuit was conducted according to procedure; whether a large volume of radio broadcasts had any impact on the management of the pursuit; and whether technological advancements such as GPS could have assisted in the pursuit.
Deputy State Coroner Derek Lee extended his personal condolences to Sergeant Richardson's family for the "tragic and devastating loss".
The inquest continues.
The Sydney Morning Herald.
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