Truck that crashed into McDonald was ‘overloaded’

Admon Romel’s truck was overloaded.A truck that crashed into the Fairy Meadow McDonald’s restaurant in 2006, injuring 13 people, was overloaded, a judge has ruled.Wollongong District Court Judge Paul Conlon delivered his judgment on the truck’s weight yesterday during a sentencing hearing for the truck’s driver, Admon Romel.Defence barrister Constantine Miralis had argued that one of the scales used to weigh the truck and load at the crash scene was overdue to be verified, and its reading should have been disregarded.However, there was evidence the scales were verified as working correctly about a month after the 2006 crash.”There is nothing to satisfy the court that the (scales) were working anything other than correctly on December 14,” Judge Conlon said.Romel’s truck and load weighed about 15 tonnes when it should have weighed no more than 11.5 tonnes.”There is a certain lack of precision concerning the weight,” Judge Conlon said. “I am not satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt as to the precise weight, but (the evidence) does satisfy me beyond a reasonable doubt that the offender’s vehicle was overloaded to a not insignificant degree.”The judgment was part of Romel’s sentencing proceedings after he pleaded guilty to dangerous driving occasioning grievous bodily harm and bodily harm caused by wilful neglect.The 22-year-old told the court yesterday he did not see either of the two safety ramps on Mt Ousley Rd as he sped towards them.He said when he realised the brakes were not working, he pulled into the right lane to avoid crashing into the back of other trucks.As he approached the bottom of the hill, he said he did not see the safety ramp sign. Instead, he was focused on a sign showing the freeway turning sharply to the right.The Bonnyrigg Heights driver said he feared the Ford Louisville 7000 series would tip over if he continued on to the right. Instead, he drove straight ahead, exiting the freeway because he said the road appeared to rise slightly and he thought it would slow the truck down.”Under the circumstances I was in, I wasn’t aware of any of the safety ramps,” he said. “I was trying to slow the truck down.”Judge Conlon said a prudent truck driver would have been on the lookout for a safety ramp sign on a road as steep as Mt Ousley Rd.”I find it quite amazing that he wouldn’t have been able to see that huge sign that’s on the side of the road,” he said.Romel’s case has been adjourned until December 12 so a psychologist’s report can be prepared. The defence also requested a sentencing options report into alternatives to fulltime imprisonment.
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Tait ready to face his home side

Kiwi Lindsay Tait. Picture: SYLVIA LIBERHome is where the heart is, but proud Kiwi Lindsay Tait will be doing everything he can to conquer the New Zealand Breakers when he lines up for Wollongong in their NBL season-opener across the Tasman tonight.Tait (left) spent three years with the Breakers before eventually shifting to Wollongong at the start of last season.But a shoulder injury wrecked his campaign after a handful of games and he is on a mission to make up for lost time.The New Zealand Tall Blacks’ starting point guard always enjoys clashing with his former side, especially in his homeland where he can catch up with family and friends.But those close to Tait know to give him plenty of space to concentrate on basketball.”I’m sure there’ll be a few things off court like family and friends trying to get tickets, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to provide enough for all of them,” the 26-year-old said before the Hawks left for New Zealand yesterday.”I’m just trying to focus on the game. Generally the basketball side of things takes care of itself when I feel good and happy, and my family’s pretty good because they understand how it is and how I am when it comes to the game.”Tait has regained full strength in his shoulder – he originally suffered the injury while body-surfing – and powered through the pre-season without any setbacks.”It seems like it’s been a long off-season,” he said. “I think we’ve had enough of playing trials and practising, now it’s time to get down to business and all the guys are looking forward to it.”The Hawks played five of their six pre-season games on the road, winning three.”We won our last game of the pre-season and our confidence is good,” Tait said. “If you asked anybody in the league right now, they’d probably say the same, but we definitely feel good coming into the season,” he added.”This game will be a very good test for us to get the season started, on the road against a very good team. We’ll definitely know where we’re at.”
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Kiama councillor defeated after 28 years in office

Joyce Wheatley, who was defeated in the Kiama council elections, at Kendalls Beach in Kiama. Picture: SYLVIA LIBERJoyce Wheatley is surprisingly nonchalant about her weekend election defeat after 28 years on Kiama council.”That’s life. People have made their decision, who am I to argue?” Mrs Wheatley said yesterday.The election result halts a notable career for the 71-year-old, who spent eight years as Kiama’s mayor and 26 years on the executive of the NSW Local Government Women’s Association.The retired high school teacher grew up in Camperdown before relocating to Kiama with her husband Frank and three children 43 years ago.The couple operated a community group before both were encouraged to stand for Kiama council in 1980.Ill-health forced Mr Wheatley to withdraw from the race. He lived just long enough to see his wife elected.Mrs Wheatley’s elevation to mayor in 1991 came at a turbulent time in the council’s history. However, her conciliatory approach proved to have a calming effect during volatile debates.Mrs Wheatley, who was regarded as a role model for female councillors, was presented with an inaugural award for women in local government last year.”The percentage (of women) in local government is about 27 per cent and needs to be much higher,” she said. “Why waste 50 per cent of the intelligence in the community?”Mrs Wheatley has been a member of the ALP for 39 years but holds no grudge against the party for not supporting her campaign on the weekend, resulting in both she and Kiama ALP president Neil Reilly running as independents.”The ALP doesn’t endorse candidates outside the metropolitan area … I guess they need to make sure their resources are being used as best as possible,” she said.Mrs Wheatley said she was proud of how Kiama Municipality had developed over the years.”The fact we have been able to grow, control that growth and share with newcomers what we have,” she said.The grandmother of two now plans to divide her time between her work as a marriage celebrant, teaching at Kiama Community College and furthering her role within St John Ambulance.”Will I come back in four years? Who knows, but I’ve got lots of things planned for now which will still keep me very busy.”
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Brasch bringing the heat at Dubbo race day

Juste Heaven Sent (inside) is among the horses Mudgee trainer Jeff Brasch will run at today’s Melbourne Cup day meeting at Dubbo. Photo: JANIAN McMILLAN (www.racing.photography南京夜网.au)MUDGEE trainer Jeff Brasch is the in-form trainer of the central west at the moment and he will be bringing a strong team of runners to today’s Melbourne Cup meeting at Dubbo.
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Brasch will saddle up a runner in each of the five races to be contested at the meeting, which promises to be a much more low-key event compared to Saturday’s bumper Derby Day program.

Among the quintet will be last-start Wellington winner Juste Heaven Sent, which steps back up to the mile when it runs in the Domain-Daily Liberal Class 1 and Maiden Plate (1600m).

The four-year-old broke her maiden status with a tough win over 1400m at Wellington last Monday and Brasch believed she would be suited to today’s race.

“She came through that win in good order and Greg (Ryan) told me it would be a good race for her as she still has a lot to learn,” Brasch said.

“She’s had one go at the mile before and was a bit unlucky so I have no worries about her getting the trip and it’s not a strong race so hopefully she can win again.”

Kacie Chater will ride Juste Heaven Sent while the other four mounts will be split between Mathew Cahill and Justin Stanley, who will ride Mind You in the Daily Liberal Cup Benchmark 50 Handicap (1200m).

Cahill will be aboard first-starter Divapar in the opening event, Aleco’s Girl in race two and last-start winner Delaval in the fourth race on the program.

“I’ve been lucky that with Greg riding at Muswellbrook I’ve been able to get good riders,” Brasch said.

“Kacie is a good rider who probably doesn’t get the chances she deserves and I think Justin will be good on Mind You because he has a big weight and needs a strong rider.

“Mathew is one of the best jockeys going around and he is on board the other three so I go to the races confident we can have some success.”

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Siblings going head-to-head at Rosehill

Anne-Marie Robinson with Smashing and brother Terry with Ledger, who meet in the Jacob’s Creek Sparkling Handicap. Picture: GREG TOTMANThe Robinsons have all bases covered with Smashing and Ledger in today’s Jacob’s Creek Sparkling Handicap at Rosehill, but it’s not an ideal situation.Anne-Marie and Terry Robinson will take their sibling rivalry to the track when Smashing meets Ledger for the third time, but admit their late father Kevin would not approve.”I think Dad would be proud to see us in the same race at Rosehill, but he would also say ‘why are they racing each other?’,” Anne-Marie said yesterday. “It’s one of those things you don’t want to do, but I guess we’ll be cheering two horses. I would love for Smashing to win another one in town but Ledger is such a special horse to all of us.”He was the last horse Dad bought before he died and I wouldn’t mind if he beat me at all,” she admitted. The record is one-all between Smashing and Ledger and the good natured banter has been flying around the Seven Mile Beach stable this week.The horses are stabled next to each other and will travel on the same float, with Anne-Marie’s other runner Another Zena.Smashing was a last-start winner at Rosehill on October 25 and is likely to set the speed in the 1200m dash, with Ledger as one of the race’s swoopers.”They are both going great and look fantastic,” Terry said.”Any way the race is run we have a horse which should be able to take advantage of it.”Ledger has to get back and settle and he will charge home and he deserves to get a win in town,” the trainer added. Another Zena will start the day for the Robinsons in the Bacardi Breezer Handicap (1800m), with Kevin’s grandson Luke Price later having Adoranova in the Nivea Visage Handicap (1500m).”Another Zena has been looking for a staying trip and she could give us a good start to the day,” Anne-Marie said.”Then Luke has Adoranova in the next (race), so we’ll all be cheering for him to get his first city winner.”If things go to plan it could be a big day,” she said confidently.
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Wollongong harbour plan remains secret

The NSW Department of Lands is remaining tight-lipped on the lease agreement which will underpin the planned redevelopment of Wollongong Harbour. Yesterday’s picture shows the latest improvements on the beachfront. Picture: KIRK GILMOURThe NSW Department of Lands is remaining tight-lipped on the lease agreement which will underpin the controversial redevelopment of Wollongong Harbour.A spokesman would not say whether the public would have a voice when the department sets lease conditions with its chosen developer for the prominent Wollongong site.The spokesman said an agreement would be drawn up “in accordance with normal commercial arrangements”.”Such an agreement would require a development application to be approved before a lease is finalised,” the spokesman said.”The type and extent of any agreement is unknown at this point and thus the level of public disclosure cannot be predetermined.”The department is pushing forward with plans to redevelop the harbour precinct amid fears a lease will be imposed on the public with no consultation.Action group Reclaim Our City has accused the department of keeping the community in the dark over the lease conditions.Spokesman Arthur Rorris, who is also secretary of the South Coast Labour Council, said the Government was trying to bring in a Killalea-style agreement, referring to the move to hand over parts of Killalea State Park to developers on 50-year leases.”Stop treating the community like mushrooms and come clean, once and for all,” he said.”This is exactly and completely consistent with what happened at Killalea. This one will be fought all the way by the community, we will not accept it and it shows this government has learned nothing from the disaster at Killalea,” he said.The department’s silence over the lease agreement comes a week after Wollongong administrator Col Gellatly told the department that any proposal “must involve consultation with local residents”.The department is assessing six proposals for the harbour area submitted by developers, behind closed doors.Bound by its expressions of interest process, the department has not allowed the public or the council to view the submissions.The department and Lands Minister Tony Kelly have been under fire from community groups, who fear they are being locked out of the assessment process.The department has consistently said the public will only get their say on a proposal when a development is chosen and put to council as a development application.In an attempt to appease his critics, Lands Minister Tony Kelly set up a consultative committee of stakeholders in August to advise on the redevelopment, but the group will not have access to the proposals at present being assessed.
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Wollongong Hospital to lose 12 beds

A 12-bed unit at Wollongong Hospital is to close, sparking fears more patients will wait for treatment in the hospital’s already overrun emergency department.The Mercury understands the facility – the clinical decision unit – is being closed because it would cost the health service $200,000 to refurbish it to a safe standard.South Eastern Sydney Illawarra Area Health said beds from the soon-to-be axed CDU unit would be used elsewhere in the hospital, but did not say where they would go.The CDU was originally intended for short-stay patients but has more recently been used for longer, more serious hospital stays when the emergency department overflows.Nurses worry that the beds will now be placed where they cannot accommodate the emergencies overflow.A source within the hospital told the Mercury the closure would place an added burden on emergency nurses working with too few beds, resources and colleagues. “At the moment, as opposed to coming into emergency and taking up a bed they don’t have, patients go to CDU,” the source said.”If they don’t go to CDU any more it’s going to be emergency’s problem.”The source said Wollongong emergency nurses were ill-equipped to cope with more patients because they had a disproportionately low number of beds to work with.According to the most recent quarterly hospital activity data, Nepean, St George and Wollongong hospitals have 12,843, 13,830 and 12,631 emergency department attendances respectively. The source claimed Nepean Hospital had 40 emergency beds, St George had 49 and Wollongong had 28.”We have the least number of emergency beds for the amount of patients we see and there’s senior nursing staff that go home in tears because they don’t have time to do nursing care anymore.” Area health representatives would not confirm the emergency bed figures yesterday and a spokeswoman for Wollongong Hospital said the comparison “wasn’t meaningful without looking at a range of factors including number of presentations annually, complexity of patient presentations and design of the ED (emergency department)”. According to the spokeswoman a move towards “more innovative models of care” was behind the decision to close the CDU. She said the changes would relieve pressure on the hospital’s emergency department by vacating treatment bays for urgent patients.But NSW Nurses Association organiser Lisa Kremmer said the closure was a financial decision.”We were advised that the area didn’t have the necessary capital (about $200,000) to carry out the refurbishments required … so the health service has made a decision to close the unit because of the cost of refurbishment,” she said.
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Port Kembla power plant in doubt

Port Kembla steelworks, where BlueScope Steel may build a co-generation power plant – if it can remove all the financial barriers. The plant, expected to cost at least $1 billion, would reduce greenhouse gas emissions each year equivalent to taking 185,000 cars off the road. Picture: KEN ROBERTSONFinancial barriers may get in the way of BlueScope Steel’s plans for a $1 billion-plus co-generation plant at Port Kembla, the company’s chairman has warned.Graham Kraehe told a meeting of shareholders this week that a review into the viability of the plant – which would reduce greenhouse gas emissions each year by the equivalent of taking 185,000 cars off the road – would have to consider “sound financial management in a tough economic environment”.The new national emissions trading scheme, and its potential effect on BlueScope profits, would also have to be factored in.A one-year feasibility study of the co-generation plant, which would convert waste gas into electricity, was announced exactly two years ago. BHP also revealed plans for a plant in 1998 but it did not proceed.The BlueScope board spent Wednesday at Port Kembla analysing the feasibility study but a decision is unlikely until next year.”Apart from improving operational performance, the investment will deliver environmental benefits by reducing carbon emissions by a net 800,000 tonnes annually,” Mr Kraehe said.”However, while the board would like to proceed with the project, we are studying the proposal to fully understand our real options,” he added.Meantime, the $370 million reline of the No 5 blast furnace will begin in March. Steel production will be halved for at least 105 days, but “given the current global slowdown, the timing of the reline is fortuitous”, Mr Kraehe said.With the price of steel expected to drop, BlueScope is predicting a tough period ahead and is focusing on reducing costs by limiting “non-essential spending” and “re-scheduling production”.It aims to cut capital costs by $200 million by the end of the financial year.The poor financial environment in the United States has also led BlueScope to speed up its plans to rationalise manufacturing facilities there.BlueScope took the unusual step of revealing its fully franked interim dividend several months before its half-year result to reassure shareholders.Mr Kraehe said despite a fall in the share price, from about $12 to below $4 at one stage in the past six months, “we remain confident in BlueScope’s future”.BlueScope’s shares opened at $4.49 yesterday.However, Mr Kraehe argued the present share price did not reflect the true value of the company.”The current replacement value of our largest manufacturing facility, the Port Kembla steelworks, is more than $10 billion – well above the current market capitalisation of the company,” Mr Kraehe revealed.”So it is clear the current share price does not reflect the full value of this asset, let alone BlueScope’s total suite of assets.”
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The spike in spiked drinks

A young woman heads out for a night on the town and is found several hours later unconscious in a park, her clothes missing and her memory of how she arrived there a blank.Tests confirm she has not only been sexually assaulted, but has the potentially lethal date-rape drug gamma-hydroxybutyrate, known as fantasy or GBH, in her system.She has been the victim of a spiked drink.Wollongong Sexual Assault Service senior clinical psychologist Alison Grundy said sexual assault was insidious enough, but when compounded by drink spiking it went to a new level of psychological damage.”Often with these drugs the memories don’t get laid down … As a psychologist we work on processing trauma. If you can’t remember what the trauma is, how can you process it?”And when you don’t know, your imagination is much worse.”Ms Grundy said the Wollongong service had counselled an average one to two drink-spiking victims a month. In the past five weeks, with warmer weather, that figure had increased to one a week.NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research figures show 10 drink-spiking cases reported in the Illawarra during the first six months of this year – six in Wollongong and two each in the Lake Illawarra and Shoalhaven police commands.Trends are impossible to formulate as these figures are all that is available since legislation against drink spiking as a stand-alone crime was introduced in March.The offence, officially termed “assault – spike food or drink” carries a maximum penalty of two years’ jail. Since it was introduced, 130 cases have been reported statewide.Ms Grundy said it was uncertain which drugs were most frequently used because they had usually left the victim’s system by the time the case was reported. Those who do front within the first 24 hours are tested for the most common drugs: alcohol, benzodiazapines such as valium, GBH, ketamine, speed, ecstasy, and sometimes a combination.”There’s also a range of different drugs that I’ve never heard of. The ‘ice’ kind of thing. There’s a lot of cooking up different types of drugs,” Ms Grundy said.It’s a chilling climate for young people about to embark on the club and pub scene.Full story in the weekend edition of the Mercury
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Caring Rhonda connects with the lonely

Rhonda Bowen has been deluged with calls from senior citizens. Picture: ANDY ZAKELIA woman’s decision to place herself up for “adoption” last week touched a nerve that reverberated all the way to London.Rhonda Bowen’s unusual method of connecting with senior citizens in need of friendship placed a spotlight on loneliness and social disconnection.Since Ms Bowen was featured in the Mercury on Wednesday, she has received calls from seniors living on their own, a widower in Tasmania seeking friendship, people across the street and friends from her old Bellambi district with whom she had lost touch.The courageous act of reaching out, despite concerns her heartfelt plea would be ridiculed, left her dancing around her Wollongong living room.”I feel like however long I live now, I am truly blessed,” she said.Since losing her mum Vi five years ago, Ms Bowen said she had become increasingly lost and lonely, a situation not helped by arthritis, which forced her to leave her job as a technical aide at Wollongong Hospital.Despite several long-term relationships, she never married, has no car and the internet is a foreign language.The 59-year-old has regular contact with her best friend Veronica, an aunt, a sister and the sister’s three children.She has friends through the Wesley Church on the Mall and visits seniors in nursing homes.Then there’s Frank, her friend of three years with whom she chats daily on the phone and socialises on the weekend.But there has been a bond unfulfilled since the loss of her mother. The two women lived apart, with her mum down the road at Warrawong (“I liked living by myself and so did she”), but the distance mattered little.”I miss my mum. The cuddles, the love. The food. I used to take her out and she’d play the pokies and forget about her pain – she had heart problems. Lots of health problems.”Since placing herself up for “adoption”, Ms Bowen feels the gap is slowly closing.”I had to stop taking calls after 12 people. I’ve contacted three so far and it’s been great.”A lady at Corrimal said she’d like me to go out there so I’ll catch a train out.”Next week I’ll be visiting a 90-year-old lady who lives around the corner …”When I was ringing these people, they said to me, ‘You’ve made me so happy.’ As soon as they say that, I get that back and it’s fantastic,” Ms Bowen said.Her story has featured on national TV show A Current Affair and she had a call from the BBC in London, seeking an interview.But while her story created immense interest, those on their own are not alone.According to figures from the NSW Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care, 48,600 clients in the state got domestic assistance, 10,800 received personal care and 34,200 received respite care in 2007-08.This included more than 3300 people in the Illawarra who were assisted through the Home and Community Care program. Thousands more are supported by church and community groups.Yet the propensity for loneliness increases with people’s age and disabilities.Professor Brian Draper, who specialises in “old age” psychiatry at Sydney’s Prince of Wales Hospital, said seniors often suddenly found themselves out of touch.Older people faced several general types of loneliness, with the first relating to isolation as a result of declining physical ability.”They can’t get out to do the things they want to do. They can’t catch the bus because they can’t walk to the bus stop any more or maybe they had to give up driving the car for whatever health reasons,” he said.Prof Draper said this might be compounded by a reduction in their social and familial network through death and people moving away.”When you’re isolated and not able to participate in social activities it can become very lonely,” he said.People who have enjoyed close personal relationships with a select few in their lives would also find it difficult to circulate and form friendships with new people.”They become like the person you hear of who can be in a group of 1000 people but still feel lonely.”Prof Draper said one of the greatest contributors to social isolation was a lack of public transport, particularly for the disabled.”In a survey of older people and what they needed, public transport was top of the list. It was the difficulty in connecting,” he said.These problems were compounded for people who came from non-English speaking backgrounds.Day care facilities have made a world of difference to thousands of seniors, but many are unaware that such social outlets exist.Diane Zisis, case manager for Community Options Illawarra, which handles an average of 200 senior clients each month, said it was not until their health deteriorated and they ended up in hospital that the elderly became exposed to the range of options available.Prof Draper said accessibility and promotion were key issues.”We might think we have a variety of things available. but it’s hard finding them. “The average older person isn’t connected to the internet,” he noted.In addition, such group outlets are not always the answer, particularly for those who prefer one-on-one relationships.”A lot of people don’t want to be in a group. Helping people has to be tailored to their particular needs,” he said.Prof Draper said thousands of people had successfully negotiated their senior years by remaining engaged in the community.”Most of our volunteers are seniors. There are many who, given the opportunity to do things, will grab it and that can be a very effective way to help people who tend to get lonely,” he said.Through ingenuity, Ms Bowen has successfully tailor-made her own social network – with a little help from above.”I think Mum’s had a bit of heavenly intervention in this. She knew I wasn’t getting what I needed, the friendship and the love, and I just reckon she’s hooked up,” she said.
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