Businessman crushed to death after dog knocked truck lever, inquest told

A businessman suffered fatal injuries when his Jack Russell pushed a lever inside his forklift truck, causing it to move forward and crush him against a gate, an inquest heard.

Derek Mead, 70, was working on building a rockery next to the pond at his home in Hewish, near Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, on June 4 last year.

The experienced farmer stopped his Manitou forklift truck at the entrance to a field on his land and is believed to have got out of the vehicle to open the gate.

Avon Coroner’s Court heard that Mr Mead left the machine in neutral, with the engine running, and did not apply the handbrake as the land was flat.

His pet dog was inside the cab at the time and may have jumped up or put its paws on the shuttle lever, which moves the vehicle forwards and backwards.

Simon Chilcott, principal investigator for the Health and Safety Executive, told Mr Mead’s inquest there were no other “reasonable explanations” for the tragedy.

Derek Mead
Derek Mead

Mr Mead suffered spinal fractures and was pronounced dead at the scene.

Dr Peter Harrowing, assistant coroner for Avon, reached a conclusion of accidental death at the hearing in Flax Bourton, near Bristol, on Friday.

“The most likely explanation, which I accept, is that the dog that he had in the cab with him on that day inadvertently moved the shuttle lever, causing the forward motion on the Manitou which sadly trapped Mr Mead against the solid gate, causing injuries which he did not survive,” Dr Harrowing said.

“I’m satisfied that this death of Derek Mead was one of a very tragic accident.”

In a statement read to the court, Mr Mead’s son, Alistair, said they worked together and had 1,600 acres over eight farms.

The garden of Mr Mead’s home had a large pond, next to which he was building a rockery on the day of his death.

Mr Mead used the “old” Manitou truck, which he used on his property in a personal capacity, to shift top soil to the site.

His son spotted the truck at the entrance to a field while driving with his family down a lane near Mr Mead’s home.

“We stopped and I could see Dad’s legs at the front of the machine,” Alistair Mead said.

“I could see that he was trapped. He was crouched down, facing the machine as if he had turned to see the machine coming towards him and ducked, trying to avoid it.”

Mr Mead said his father was being pushed against the gate and was unresponsive.

“Inside the cab was my Dad’s dog, a Jack Russell,” he told the inquest.

He reversed the truck and first aid was given to his father, with paramedics later arriving on the scene.

Mr Mead was pronounced dead at 3.04pm.

A post-mortem examination found Mr Mead’s death was caused by spinal fractures and traumatic asphyxia.

Mr Chilcott, an HSE investigator with 19 years of experience, said the gate Mr Mead was crushed against was padlocked on one side with a substantial chain on a solid post.

He said the truck had one door to get in and out, with the shuttle lever between this and the steering wheel.

The shuttle lever, which is moved in a similar way to an indicator stalk on a car, can either be placed in forward, neutral or reverse.

“You can move it inadvertently,” Mr Chilcott added.

“The machine will then move forward without the need to press the accelerator.

“It is fairly clear in my mind that the lever must have been in neutral when Derek left the cab, otherwise he would have realised the machine was moving and done something to rectify it.”

Mr Chilcott said the vehicle would have been stationary if the lever had remained in neutral.

“We think the most reasonable explanation is that within the cab of the vehicle there was a small dog,” he told the hearing.

“Whether the dog has been jumping up to see where his master has gone, or put his paws up on the door to await the return of Derek – it seems most likely that he has collided with the lever.

“He has jumped up or put his paws up and knocked the shuttle lever, which would have put the vehicle in a forward motion.”

When asked if there were any other reasonable explanations for the accident, Mr Chilcott replied: “None that we can think of”.

In a statement, Mr Mead’s family said: “As a family we have been processing the tragic and sudden loss of our father.

“It has been a very difficult time for us and for all of those who knew our father well.

“Whilst we grieve for the loss of our dad, grandfather and friend, we celebrate everything that he has achieved and focus on continuing his legacy.

“We want to express our deepest gratitude for the support and all the kind wishes we have received during this difficult time from so many that Dad reached out to.

“We thank you for continuing to respect our privacy as we, as a family, continue to grieve.”