Natalie Akoorie

Natalie Akoorie is a reporter at the NZ Herald based in Hamilton.

Family calls for booze bus changes

Woman's death leads to request for cameras and defibrillators to be on board.

Ms Gilbertson was escorted to the bus after alcohol was detected on her breath. Photo / NZPA
Ms Gilbertson was escorted to the bus after alcohol was detected on her breath. Photo / NZPA

The death of a woman in a police booze bus has prompted calls for defibrillators and closed circuit television in the buses.

Siblings of Elizabeth Jill Gilbertson, who died while giving an alcohol breath test inside a booze bus in Hamilton last year, said earlier intervention could have saved their sister's life.

They also told a coroner's inquest yesterday into the 56-year-old's sudden death that surveillance cameras should be used in booze buses to record everything.

Ms Gilbertson was escorted to the bus after alcohol was detected on her breath about 10pm on June 3, and she failed several tests.

Inside the bus she failed several more tests which Constable Anthony McFarlane told the inquest he put down to nervousness.

Moments later she collapsed and slid off the chair, hitting her head on another seat as she fell to the floor.

Mr McFarlane called his colleagues for help and an ambulance was requested but before it could arrive, six minutes later, Ms Gilbertson's lips had turned blue, her face went pale and her pulse became faint.

St John staff spent 37 minutes trying to resuscitate the South African immigrant, who had moved to New Zealand six months earlier to be reunited with her family.

At the inquest in the Hamilton District Court, forensic pathologist Dr Simon Stables said he believed Ms Gilbertson, had become highly stressed and had heart disease.

"I think it is sufficient in the circumstances, especially coupled with the extreme stress, that this has been enough to tip the balance where she has suffered a quite significant arrhythmic heart rhythm problem, and that's led to her death."

Dr Stables said Ms Gilbertson had enlarged heart muscles requiring more oxygen and a borderline severely narrowed coronary artery, meant when her heart went into arrhythmia because of the stress, she couldn't get enough oxygen.

Dr Stables recommended all booze buses carry defibrillators in case of such emergencies.

Despite the tragedy siblings Ian Gilbertson, a Cambridge GP, and Marion Morris, a nurse at Waikato Hospital, said they did not hold police responsible for Ms Gilbertson's death.

Dr Gilbertson thanked police and ambulance officers for the attempted resuscitation of Ms Gilbertson.

But he said the family suggested recording devices would "protect the police and the public" in similar situations.

He said the family was relieved to know Ms Gilbertson was treated with respect during the incident, and that an autopsy proved her well under the legal alcohol driving limit.

Coroner Gordon Matenga reserved his decision.

- NZ Herald

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