Chloe-May and her father Matthew Kabealo exit Murwillumbah Courthouse following a coroners inquest into the deaths of Chloes mother, Stephanie King, and siblings Ella-Jane and Jacob.
Chloe-May and her father Matthew Kabealo exit Murwillumbah Courthouse following a coroners inquest into the deaths of Chloes mother, Stephanie King, and siblings Ella-Jane and Jacob. Aisling Brennan

Coroner commends 'brave, clever' girl in flood tragedy

THE brave actions of a mother and daughter whose car plunged into the Tweed River days after the 2017 flood have been praised by the Coroner following a three-day inquest into the tragic accident.

Stephanie King, 43, was driving her three children along Dugluigan Rd, North Tumbulgum, on April 3 when her car left the road after hitting slippery conditions caused by mud and silt which was left in the aftermath of the major flooding event days prior to the accident.

Ms King and two of her children, Ella-Jane, 11, and Jacob, seven, drowned as a result of the accident, while Chloe-May, aged nine at the time of the crash, managed to escape the sinking van through an open window before running for help.

Acting State Coroner Teresa O'Sullivan told the Coroner's Court the actions of both Ms King and Chloe-May that day should be commended, and she offered her condolences to their family, including Ms King's partner and the father of her children Matt Kabealo.

"Chloe-May acted in a way that was brave and clever beyond her years, in exiting the vehicle after it went into the water and running a distance on the storm affected road, with bare and injured feet, to raise the alarm for her family," Coroner O'Sullivan said

"(Matt) expressed the hope that through this tragedy, there is something positive in that other families are safer on the roads in the event of further flooding.

"Stephanie's brother John King, spoke on behalf of the King family in New Zealand and he too expressed his family's hope that some positive outcomes could come from the inquest to 'prevent this tragedy, pain and loss that they have suffered as a family and a community from happening to others'."

Coroner O'Sullivan handed down five recommendations for Tweed Shire Council, the official owners of Dulguigan Rd, to action in order to prevent further tragedies occurring on flood effected roads.

She recommended the council conduct a study of shire roads to identify hazards during and following floods in an effort to mitigate such hazards, install warning signs on the southern and northern ends of Dulgluigan Rd alerting the public to hazards from mud and silt following floods and consider how best to educate the community to potential post-flood hazards on roads.

The coroner's report also recommends council trains its works officers to actively look for risks to road users arising from mud and silt being deposited on roads following floods.

The final recommendation suggested council should improve and update its volunteer-based road spotters program, which relies on people living in flood prone areas to actively contact council if they spot a potential flood related hazard.

Coroner O'Sullivan said she was satisfied council had made a "significant effort to address shortcomings in their staff levels and procedures" following the flood and accident.

She also made clear Ms King did everything she could to prevent the accident from happening and had no prior knowledge to the possible dangers of driving along Dulguigan Rd, which was open that day.

"By the time Stephanie drove along Dulguigan Rd, there was no warning that it was still slippery and hazardous," Coroner O'Sullivan said.

"At the time there was no physical barrier between the road and the river, and despite Stephanie's efforts, she could not prevent the van from sliding into the Tweed River, which hugs on the side of the road."

Meanwhile, Tweed Shire Council general manager Troy Green said council accepts the recommendations and will work towards implementing them.

"Tweed Shire Council fully accepts the recommendations of the Coroner and we are committed to implementing them to prevent a similar tragedy," he said.

"As was acknowledged during the Inquest, we have already taken significant steps to improve safety and to communicate more proactively with the community.

"Last year we completed the construction of a 220 metre guardrail along the river side of Dulguigan Road. We have also launched an online Emergency Dashboard for Tweed community members which brings together important information from a number of agencies into one place.

"In addition, the Inquest acknowledged the work we have done to improve our internal processes in relation to road closures.

"On behalf of Council and Councillors, our thoughts and deepest sympathies go out to the King and Kabealo families and their friends as we remember Stephanie, Ella-Jane and Jacob."