'Small error of judgement' resulted in death

By Matthew Martin

Family and friends stand together at the memorial ride and tribute to Cole Walker last year. PHOTO/THOMAS FALCONER
Family and friends stand together at the memorial ride and tribute to Cole Walker last year. PHOTO/THOMAS FALCONER

The family of a young mountain biker killed in the Whakarewarewa Forest have told an inquest their son and brother had "a short, but good life".

Cole Joseph Walker, 20, of Te Puke, was killed when he hit his head on the ground after making a "small error of judgement" while attempting a set of jumps on a grade 5 trail, known as the Pigeon Run, in the forest on August 22 last year.

He was taken to Waikato Hospital's intensive care unit, but died of his injuries on August 26.

An inquest into his death was held in Rotorua today in front of Coroner Gordon Matenga, who found Mr Walker's death was due to "a severe head injury following a mountain bike crash".

Mr Matenga did not make any further rulings or recommendations saying the removal and reconstruction of the trail by members of Rotorua's mountain biking community was appropriate, but he did warn the general public about the dangers of the sport.

"It would not be practical for me to recommend that mountain biking be removed as an activity. It is important that members of the public are aware it is a dangerous activity and people do so at their own risk," he said.

The only witness to the accident, 23-year-old Mt Maunganui man Ricoh Flavell, said he followed Mr Walker down the trail and watched on as he overshot a jump, landed on his front wheel, and went over his handlebars hitting his head on the ground.

 Cole Walker
Cole Walker

Mr Flavell said neither he nor Mr Walker were carrying mobile phones so he made him as comfortable as possible before trying to find help.

He eventually found a man and his two sons who were cycling nearby who called an ambulance and stayed with Mr Walker while Mr Flavell rode to the Waipa carpark to get more help.

Sergeant David Hamilton of Rotorua police, an avid mountain biker who is also president of Descend Rotorua, president of New Zealand Downhill, a national downhill mountain bike team selector and experienced trail builder, also presented evidence to the coroner.

Mr Hamilton said Pigeon Run was dismantled in February this year, and would be rebuilt, after Descend Rotorua had "adopted" the trail.

"We took it out as it could be designed better and to prevent this sort of thing happening again."

Mr Hamilton said he believed Mr Walker had hit the jump too fast and overshot the landing ramp which led him to landing on his front wheel and going over his handlebars.

At the end of proceedings Mr Walker's father Greg Walker made a statement to the court.
His son was "a real neat guy and always had a permanent smile on his face", he said.

"Cole was a small motors mechanic doing an apprenticeship, but that kind of got in the way of what he really loved, which was mountain biking."

He said his son had been riding all his life, starting out on a BMX and had ridden in the forest for two to three years.

"He knew it was an extreme sport, we had talked to him about it several times. But that's what he loved doing and we weren't going to stop him doing it - we couldn't stop him doing it.

"I guess at the end of the day he made a terrible mistake and paid for it with his life. But he had a good life, a short life, but a good life, and we all miss him dearly."

He said his son had ridden the trail that took his life before and thanked all of those who helped on the day of the accident.

Mountain biking safety tips:
- Try to ride with others, or tell others where you are riding
- Fast, flowing tracks can be more dangerous than technical slower trails
- Learn how to jump safely
- Know your limits
- Take a reputable skills clinic
- Check your bike is safe to ride in the conditions you are riding

* Tips provided by Peak Safety and Emergency Management

- Rotorua Daily Post

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