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Alcohol, speeding blamed in Eleanor Reinecke's death

Coroner releases report into death of highway pedestrian



The BC Coroner's Service has finally released its report regarding the death of Australian worker Eleanor Reinecke, 24, after a taxi struck her on Highway 99 in the early hours of Jan. 6, 2011.

Previously in the evening, Reinecke was celebrating a late New Year's Eve with friends and co-workers. She went to the Longhorn Saloon, where according to the police investigation she inadvertently left her phone, jacket and wallet before going to Buffalo Bill's until roughly 2:20 a.m. Video from both nightclubs does not indicate that Reinecke was in any distress or having difficulty walking, although it does show that she likely left Buffalo Bill's alone.

It's unknown where she was between 2:20 a.m. and 3:10 a.m. when she was struck by the taxi.

The toxicology report revealed that her blood alcohol content was between 0.22 and 0.27 per cent, which is roughly three times the legal limit for operating a motor vehicle. A drug screening was negative.

Snow had turned to rain earlier in the evening, and the conditions were slushy with large puddles on the side of Highway 99. At the time of the accident, Reinecke was walking northbound on the highway past the Lorimer Road intersection with her back to traffic, which is opposite of what the Motor Vehicle Act recommends — although it would have been the proper side in Australia. She was also wearing earmuffs, which may have affected her hearing.

It's unknown why she wasn't walking along the lit Valley Trail just 10 metres away, or why she was walking in the opposite direction of where she lived. The loss of her wallet and phone likely explains why she did not take a taxi herself, or call her boyfriend for assistance. She was also relatively new to town, arriving in November, which could explain why she didn't take the Valley Trail and was walking in the wrong direction.

Both the coroner's report and police report also confirmed that the taxi was speeding, travelling 69km/h in a 60km/h zone despite the weather conditions.

"RCMP investigators have determined that the taxi operator was travelling above the posted speed limit in inclement weather and this is considered to be a contributing factor in this fatal incident," wrote Coroner Claire Thompson.

The coroner noted that the intersection was dark and that pedestrians frequently choose to walk on the highway rather than the Valley Trail — possibly because people see the highway as safer, or because they're not aware of the alternatives.

The coroner made two recommendations to the provincial Ministry of Transportation and the Resort Municipality of Whistler:

She suggested that the ministry, "improve the overhead lighting along Highway 99, in the populated residential areas where there is a known amount of heavier pedestrian traffic."

She noted that, "The current Highway 99 lighting meets the established provincial standards; however it is important to note that standards provide a minimum level that must be met. In unique circumstances (i.e. atypical pedestrian traffic on a highway, large population growths within a community) lighting standards may need to be reevaluated to increase the safety for all individuals using the highway."

To the municipality, the coroner recommended that it, "consider strategies that would increase the usage of the Whistler Valley Trail by pedestrians."

The municipality, working with the RCMP and other partners, has already responded by creating a Walk Safe program this past winter to educate young people on safe travel, including the Valley Trail route and the safest way to walk along the highway. As well, the program provides every participant with a reflector they can keep in their pocket and use at night while walking along the highway or in subdivisions.

Meanwhile, Penny Reinecke, Eleanor's mother, has expressed shock that dangerous driving charges were not be laid against the driver of the taxi by the Crown, and that the only penalty handed down after a year-long investigation was a speeding ticket.

"We are appalled that the prosecutor can allow the driver to escape with a slap on the hand and $160 fine," she said.

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