12 May 2010

Officer had seconds to lay road spikes, inquest told

7:12 pm on 12 May 2010

A police officer who died trying to stop a stolen car had just seconds to lay road spikes and get out of the vehicle's way, a coroner's inquest has been told.

Sergeant Derek Wootton was run over and died at the scene in Titahi Bay, north of Wellington, in July 2008.

The man driving the Honda Prelude, Andrew Popo, later pleaded guilty to manslaughter and received a jail sentence of eight years and nine months.

At the Wellington District Court on Wednesday, Detective Senior Sergeant Mike Oxnam told the hearing Mr Wootton was attending a domestic incident when called to help stop the stolen car and he quickly drove about 450 metres down the road.

Mr Oxnam says the officer then had a maximum of 18 seconds to get the spikes from his vehicle and get into a position from which he could lay them out on the road before getting away from the stolen car.

Earlier, Department of Labour health and safety inspector Joanne Fox told the hearing that Mr Wootton would not have had time to put on a high-visibility jacket before he was fatally hit.

Ms Fox noted it was common for officers to ignore the requirement to wear the jackets while laying road spikes, as many felt it turned them into targets for offenders.

Outside the court, John Wootton said his brother would have acted out of a concern for others when he laid the road spikes in spite of the tight timeframe, and he was just doing his duty.