It's not hard to understand how Jane Devonshire died.

She was fit and strong and booked to fly to Fiji on her 20th birthday, but four companies were negligent and a rubbish truck landed on top of her.

The brakes on the Sterling truck failed as it travelled down a steep suburban Auckland street on August 10, 2015, and it plummeted over a bank.

As stunned residents emerged from homes where Kauri Rd meets Hebe Pl, in Birkenhead, they were met by the anguished cries of the trapped driver asking a question they could not immediately answer.

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"Where's the girl? Where's the girl?" Hebe Pl man Roy McKone recounted the driver's words to the Herald later.

"Neither my neighbour or myself could see the girl. I had a look under the truck and saw absolutely nothing."

But Devonshire was under the truck.

A rubbish runner for Auckland Council contractor Onyx, now Veolia, she was standing on the left side of the cab when the brakes failed.

When it careened 120m down Kauri Rd, its mangled cab eventually coming to rest in a bush-clad gully below, she didn't stand a chance.

Jane Devonshire was standing on the left hand side of the cab when the brakes failed. File photo / Greg Bowker
Jane Devonshire was standing on the left hand side of the cab when the brakes failed. File photo / Greg Bowker

It would be more than two years, and two court cases, before the sad story behind Devonshire's entirely preventable death was revealed, and the companies responsible held to account.

For her grieving parents, Philip Devonshire and Rona Topia, the path ahead is forming in different directions.

Philip Devonshire plans to seek legal advice on whether individuals can be held to account. Topia wants to move on.

The two lives who gave Devonshire life parted company when their kids were young, and they no longer speak.

But they share the worst kind of pain, learning to live without their treasured daughter, and with the biggest question: Why did she have to die?

On her last night she came home after midnight

It was a typical Monday when her daughter died, Topia says.

Well, almost - half Topia's freshly made Weet-Bix slice vanished as the eldest of her four children disappeared out the door at 6.30am.

Devonshire's workmates had helped sell 11 boxes of chocolate bars in a fundraiser that paid for younger sister Serenity, now 12, and a couple of cousins to attend school camp.

Her daughter took the slice to thank them.

That was her way, Topia says.

"She would do things for you out of the blue. The word 'no' wasn't in her vocabulary. She was our determination person ... [when she was born] I cried, but it was a happy cry because I knew she had that spirit, that she was going to be a leader."

Jane Devonshire loved being an army cadet while living with her grandparents in Ohakune in her mid-teens. Photo / Supplied
Jane Devonshire loved being an army cadet while living with her grandparents in Ohakune in her mid-teens. Photo / Supplied

Mother and daughter spent some final moments together in the pre-dawn darkness.

Devonshire had spent much of the night before her death at an aunt's house across the road from their West Harbour home.

With a belly full of her mum's shepherd pie - the pair took turns in the kitchen on Sunday nights and the British meat and mash combo was a favourite cooking rivalry - she crossed the street to dry her uniform.

On the last night of her life she wouldn't come home until well after midnight.

"We noticed she didn't want to leave her aunty's and we didn't understand why. I was going to keep her home Monday, because she didn't look too good. But she was like, 'No, I'll go to work'."

That was her daughter - in the five months she worked as a rubbish runner she missed just one day of work, stunning her boss by returning the following day, Topia says.

"She was a real confident go-getter. Even when she got the flu, she'd be working in the rain. A flu wouldn't put her in bed, tonsillitis wouldn't put her in bed. When she was younger she had scarlet fever. That was the only thing that put her in bed."

So here they were, together for the last time as a dark winter's night prepared to give way to a new day.

Even though at 19 her daughter was an adult, motherhood doesn't follow the Gregorian calendar and Topia was up with her daughter at 5.30am to make sure she had her favourite, Weet-Bix with milk and bananas, for breakfast.

"She was my Weet-Bix kid."

Then, with her sandwiches, fruit and a stash of chocolate in her bag, she was gone.

"She just said, 'Bye, Mum. See you after work.' Oh, and 'What's gonna be for tea'?"

As Devonshire made her way to the Onyx depot near her home, joined her driver, began collecting the city's rubbish and, eventually, arrived at Kauri Rd, a bacon hock was gently simmering in the slow cooker at home.

A strange phone call

The first sign something was dreadfully wrong came with a strange phone call.

Topia had taken the little ones, Serenity and youngest child, Jyisah, now 8, to school and was running an errand just before noon when Devonshire's supervisor rang, she says.

"He said, 'You might be getting a visit soon.' I said, 'What's happened?' and he said, 'I can't tell you but be calm and don't get upset.'

"When he said that, well, it made me think 'What's gone on?' I said to my cousin, 'I just got this weird phone call'."

Rona Topia couldn't go in her daughter's room for a long time after the teen's death, but now it is a place of solace for the mum and her younger daughter, Serenity, 12. Photo / Greg Bowker
Rona Topia couldn't go in her daughter's room for a long time after the teen's death, but now it is a place of solace for the mum and her younger daughter, Serenity, 12. Photo / Greg Bowker

Confusion became panic.

Topia unsuccessfully tried calling the boss of Onyx. She called North Shore, Waitakere and, finally, Auckland City hospitals.

When she asked the latter if a young woman had come in the line "went all quiet", Topia says.

The police arrived.

"I said, 'Are you here to tell me that you're taking me to the hospital because my daughter has an injury, or are you here to tell me that she's dead?' When they said 'she's dead', I screamed."

Her screams would be matched by those of other family members as the heartbreaking news was shared.

Philip Devonshire received the phone call every parent fears.

"My ex said, 'Our daughter Jane's been killed.' I was all choked up inside."

He went to the scene, but couldn't get close.

It would take two heavy haulage trucks more than five hours to winch the truck from its ghastly resting place.

Police at the scene of the rubbish truck crash in which Jane Devonshire died on August 10 2015. File photo / Greg Bowker
Police at the scene of the rubbish truck crash in which Jane Devonshire died on August 10 2015. File photo / Greg Bowker

Devonshire's body - crushed below her neck and covered in diesel, her mum was told - was returned to family the following day and laid in rest in the family lounge before her burial at Waikumete Cemetery.

Philip Devonshire can't get the last image of his daughter out of his head.

"It was a horrible thing seeing my daughter in the coffin ... she was a happy girl, she wanted to travel quite a bit, and do many other things in her life. Now that will never happen."

He'd encouraged her to get a job, and he was so proud when she did, he says.

"I'd said, 'If you get a job, you can buy all your things and do what you like, you'll have your own money, you'll feel better about yourself.'

"[When she did] I thought 'Good on you, Jane. Good on you'."

The job that killed her

New Zealand doesn't have a law that prosecutes parents for encouraging their kids to make their way in life.

Philip Devonshire carries guilt for encouraging his daughter to the get the job that killed her, but of course he is not responsible.

Others are.

But when Devonshire died, one of 45 people to lose their life at work in 2015, it was much harder to hold individuals to account.

Philip Devonshire at the intersection of Hebe Place and Kauri Rd, where his daughter died while working as a rubbish runner in 2015.Barriers were added after the tragedy, he says. Photo / Greg Bowker
Philip Devonshire at the intersection of Hebe Place and Kauri Rd, where his daughter died while working as a rubbish runner in 2015.Barriers were added after the tragedy, he says. Photo / Greg Bowker

Eight months after tragedy unfolded in a leafy pocket of Auckland suburbia, the new Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 became law, enshrining a higher level of due diligence for company bosses, such as directors and chief executives, in keeping workers safe.

It can never be known what the outcome would have been if prosecutions over Devonshire's death had occurred under the new law, rather than the quarter-century-old statute it replaced.

But when judges convicted and ordered a total of just over $400,000 fines and reparations be paid after Devonshire's death, it was four companies that received the penalty, not individuals.

Through their representatives, three of the companies - Auckland Council, the council's rubbish collection contractor Veolia ES Technical Solutions (formerly known as Onyx Environmental Services) and fleet maintenance contractor N P Dobbe Maintenance Limited - admitted failing to ensure employees are not harmed.

They were fined a total of $120,000, just over half to be paid by Veolia. They were also ordered to collectively pay reparation of $120,000 to Devonshire's family and $15,000 to the truck driver.

A fourth company, Truck Leasing Limited, which owned the rubbish truck, pleaded not guilty to failing to maintain the truck so that it was safe for its intended use, but was found guilty by Judge Robert Ronayne in the Auckland District Court last month.

The company was fined $110,000 and told to pay $36,000 and $11,000 reparation to the Devonshire family and the driver respectively.

Facts revealed during the two court cases make for sobering reading.

On that first journey to the place where his daughter's life came to an end, Philip Devonshire looked at the imposing gradient and thought "a big truck coming down
here? That's just silly."

But it was worse than just a big, heavy truck taking on a narrow, steep road.

As well as faults previously identified with the truck, two other trucks from the fleet had been in crashes, one fatal.

The agreed summary of facts showed the rubbish truck that crushed Devonshire was overdue for a major service. Issues with its brakes had been identified but not fixed and warning lights on the dashboard weren't working.

Two weeks before the tragedy, it broke down on the side of the road and a mechanic identified the third axle brake linings were low. A job card was filed but got missed in a pile of paperwork until after Devonshire's death.

In the first case, the Crown argued the council had insufficiently audited its subcontractors, Veolia had insufficiently overseen its fleet and didn't keep sufficient records and N P Dobbe inadequately maintained the trucks.

Veolia was also already on notice for another rubbish truck death in 2007, a few streets away from where Devonshire died.

Jane Devonshire dreamed of travelling the world, and had booked flights to Fiji on her 20th birthday, but she died while working as a rubbish runner before she could leave. Photo / Supplied
Jane Devonshire dreamed of travelling the world, and had booked flights to Fiji on her 20th birthday, but she died while working as a rubbish runner before she could leave. Photo / Supplied

In their four-week trial, Truck Leasing Ltd argued inadequate work had been carried out by mechanics and the driver had acted unlawfully, but Judge Ronayne said the mechanics' poor maintenance reflected the "appalling" circumstances in which TLL made them work - such as carrying out services at night in a gravel yard, it was reported.

The judge also absolved the ­driver of all blame.

In sentencing, he told the ­company the Sterling trucks in their fleet were "inherently ­unsuitable for rubbish collection" and ­"obviously worn out" and the company was aware of this.

Auckland Council has expressed its deepest sympathies to Devonshire's family and friends, acknowledging nothing could bring back their precious daughter and sister.

"The council has ­co-operated fully with all of the relevant ­authorities," says Barry Potter, director of Infrastructure and ­Environmental Services.

"This has resulted in Auckland Council paying fines and reparations ordered by the court and making improvements to our own processes. We have maintained contact with Jane's mother and continued to support her - this has included our promise to pay for Jane's headstone."

The council takes health and safety "incredibly seriously", he says.

It has reviewed its ­processes to ensure "clear oversight" of truck maintenance and continues to ­audit and monitor processes.

Someone has to be held accountable

Topia has accepted the apologies of Auckland Council, Veolia and N P Dobbe and forgiven them, but will never forgive Truck Leasing Ltd.

"They should've just admitted they were at fault with the truck, instead of waiting for a judge to convict them. But what got me was they were still blaming the truck driver, when it wasn't even his fault ... they owned those trucks, why didn't they maintain them properly?"

But she wants to move on.

Last month's sentencing represented the end of the penance part of Devonshire's story, but her dad isn't ready to stop his fight for justice.

He will apply for legal aid to find out if individuals, including the driver and leadership of the various companies involved, can be held responsible.

He has repeatedly asked police, who led the prosecution, why no one was charged with manslaughter. The Herald on Sunday contacted police, but the officer in charge of the case was on leave and no one else able to comment.

The dad of four isn't sure his fight can be won. Jane would "probably want me to move on".

"But for me to move on from it ... someone has to be held accountable."

Jane Devonshire, pictured as a child, was a born leader, her mum says. Photo / Supplied
Jane Devonshire, pictured as a child, was a born leader, her mum says. Photo / Supplied

History suggests no individual will be held responsible for Devonshire's death.

New Zealand law does not allow for corporate manslaughter charges.

Auckland University professor Bill Hodge told the Herald last month that in several high-profile cases in New Zealand police took manslaughter charges against company individuals, but they were acquitted.

These included a speedway driver whose flying wheel killed an 8-year-old in 1997, and pilot Garry Sotheran, after the deaths of four people in the Ansett New Zealand Flight 703 crash two years earlier.

It was possible to charge individuals in the High Court for manslaughter, but generally juries did not like it, Hodge said.

"I think in each of the cases the individuals were acquitted because it was more institutional failure and the jury is I guess signalling they didn't like the finger being put on the shoulder of one or two employees."

It's good to have her things

In the lounge where Devonshire lay before burial, Topia is showing off her new tattoos, every one inked since her daughter's death.

The latest was to be Devonshire's seventh, and its words trace a message of hope across her mum's shoulder: "We are trying to find meaning in the things we believe in".

For Topia, that means eating healthily, as her daughter did, and spending time in her old room, gazing at the messages of inspiration Blu-Tacked over the walls and ceiling.

And it means starting to think about the next step - packing away Devonshire's old work uniform, her books about vampires, her mementos from her teenage years in the army cadets and all her other favourite things.

"I'm getting to that part now where I can put them away, but still have them in the house. It's good to have her things."

Jane Devonshire loved all animals, but had a particular soft spot for horses, her family say. Photo / Supplied
Jane Devonshire loved all animals, but had a particular soft spot for horses, her family say. Photo / Supplied

For Devonshire's dad, the place where his daughter died will always be a place of pilgrimage. He'll be back on December 9, Devonshire's 22nd birthday.

"I'll just say happy birthday ... we'll meet again someday. You'll be on your horse."

His daughter loved horses and he can't help but think that if Devonshire had to die, why couldn't it have happened differently?

"It's horrible to think, my Jane, screaming out and no one can help her. She ends up dead in the gully.

"I guess in Jane's mind she would've rather been killed by a horse, you know? Something she loved. Instead of a truck crushing her."