Coroner releases report into young priest’s death


A coroner’s report attributes above legal-limit drinking and a poorly fitting helmet as being the likely causes of a young priest’s death in 2018.

Father Graeme Blackburn – a much-loved Christchurch priest – died after a crash on a Banks Peninsula road. His motorbike had collided head-on with an oncoming four-wheel-drive and his helmet came off. He was 33 years old.

The coroner said Blackburn’s blood alcohol level was “considerably above” the legal blood alcohol limit. The report also noted Blackburn was an inexperienced motorcyclist.

Speed and weather conditions did not contribute to the crash.

Blackburn – who was a pilot and worked as a commercial aeroplace instructor for a decade – is described as a “quirky guy with a dry sense of humour” by Canterbury Aero Club chief flying instructor.

He was ordained as a deacon in 2016 and became a priest at the Catholic Diocese of Christchurch.

Christchurch priest Father Rick Loughnan said it had been a “hard struggle for [Blackburn] to follow the call to priesthood”.

However, he says Blackburn’s dedication and commitment to his faith had a remarkable impact on the parish and he was “much loved”.

His death prompted chief coroner Anna Tutton to remind motorcyclists of the importance of having a correctly fitted and safety approved helmet. The helmet should not come loose in the event of a fall, she says.

The police serious crash unit told the coroner a high proportion of helmets come off riders’ heads during crashes and that “it is often the second impact with the road surface that causes the fatal head injuries,”.

Tutton tried to get statistics on helmet failures. These are unobtainable, however, as a poorly fitting helmet is not included in statistics on factors causing crashes.

Describing this situation as unfortunate, Tutton has recommended her findings be sent to the Ministry of Transport, Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency and the Motorcycle Association of New Zealand. She would like these groups to consider doing further research on the prevalence and cause of helmet failures.

She suggests an approved safety helmet should have a sticker showing it met an approved safety standard.

Helmets should also fit snugly and need to be replaced if they were cracked, or had loose padding, frayed straps or exposed metal.

“Dropping it onto a hard surface can cause damage that can’t always be seen,” Tutton says.


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