Paramedic not guilty over SA crash

A paramedic who rolled his ambulance has been acquitted of causing the death of a patient inside.
A paramedic who rolled his ambulance has been acquitted of causing the death of a patient inside.

A paramedic who was asleep at the wheel of his ambulance before it rolled and killed a woman being taken to hospital has been cleared on dangerous driving charges.

Matthew James McLean had pleaded not guilty to one count of causing death by dangerous driving and two counts of causing harm.

The charges related to the death of 48-year-old Karen Biddell who was being transported from her home near Port Pirie to Adelaide for non-urgent treatment to leg ulcers.

The crash also injured another ambulance officer and Ms Biddell's daughter.

On the crown case, the ambulance was on cruise control on August 16, 2016 when it started to veer off the road.

It struck a small tree and, as Mr McLean fought to get it back under control, it ran up an embankment, rolled once end ended upright.

The prosecution argued that he had been significantly fatigued while driving, pointing to his heavy workload leading up to the crash having worked 11 shifts in the previous 12 days.

But his defence had argued that he was suffering from undiagnosed sleep apnoea at the time of the crash which had caused him to fall asleep without warning.

In her verdict on Friday, District Court Judge Sophie David said she could not rule out the possibility that sleep apnoea was at play.

"I cannot exclude as a reasonable possibility that the accused was tired, but not significantly tired or fatigued, and fell asleep without warning because of an undiagnosed condition of sleep apnoea," she said.

"I wish to make clear that my verdicts in this case cannot and should not detract from the tragic nature of the vehicle rollover and the terrible consequences of that accident."

As Judge David handed down her not guilty verdicts on Friday, Mr McLeans' supporters burst into applause.

He made no comment as left the court, but Ambulance Employees Association general secretary Phil Palmer said the case should never have gone to trial.

"This is a tragic situation. Somebody has lost a mother, a sister, a friend, a loved one and our hearts go out to them," he said.

"Mr McLean specifically asked me to pass on to the family of the deceased that he thinks about them every day and he goes through anguish.

"But from our perspective justice has been served.

"We always maintained it should never have got here. Mr McLean can now get on with his life."

Mr Palmer said McLean would return to his job with the ambulance service.

Australian Associated Press