A grandfather who died after getting stuck in a car wash is blamed for his own tragic death after making a decision that had never been made before.
Athanasios Papageorgiou, 73, had to fight for his life after leaving his car to manually start the car wash in Springvale, Melbourne, in November 2019. He suffered serious injuries when the car wash began and died three days later.
On Friday, lawyers for international oil company Chevron, which owns the brand, told Melbourne Magistrates’ Court that the car wash had safely cleaned about 64,000 cars before the accident.
Melbourne car wash victim Athanasios Papageorgiou and his wife Maria. Both were active members of the Greek community
The car wash where the shocking accident took the life of Mr Papageorgiou in Springvale, in the southeast of the town
“Probably about the same number of people who could watch Geelong and Richmond tonight at the MCG (had been through that car wash),” attorney Sally Flynn said.
“When you think about that number of people when you’re at the MCG and see that image, you get an idea of how many people have been through this car wash.
“How can it be said that it is reasonably foreseeable that the defendant knew that the deceased might act in a certain way when none of those other 64,000 people ever did.”
Daily Mail Australia revealed last month that Mr Papageorgiou, 73, was a beloved father of two and grandfather and an active member of the Greek community when his life was tragically cut short.
He had told his wife Maria that he was just going to get fuel when a quick decision to wash his car ended in tragedy.
Ms. Papageorgiou told her family that her husband simply went to fill up his car and never returned home.
“He went to fill up the car, something happened to the machine and he died of suffocation,” she told friends and family via social media at the time.
WorkSafe Victoria has sued Chevron four times for negligence after the man drove into the car wash before getting out of his car to re-enter an access code.
The court heard he was crushed trying to get back into his vehicle once the wash cycle had begun, his car door getting stuck by a portal.
Athanasios Papageorgiou (far left) is seen in happier times at a traditional Greek event in the Greek community of Springvale and the Tavern District where he was a regular
Ms Flynn described the tragedy as a ‘freak’ accident that was never foreseen by anyone in the car wash business before it happened.
“This was an extremely remote and freak incident that actually happened,” she said.
The court heard multiple experts summoned at the hearing claiming that they had never heard of anything like this happening anywhere on the planet prior to Mr. Papageorgiou’s death.
Mr. Papageorgiou and wife Maria in happier times
Ms Flynn said Chevron had no idea it could ever happen and there was no industry knowledge before the accident that it could ever happen.
“In those circumstances, it is not simply reasonably possible to protect against unforeseen risks and it is not enough to identify a risk after the fact that what happened on that day in November of that year,” she said.
“No one ever thought of this particular risk until this event happened…and we say it was inherently unlikely for these reasons.”
The court heard at an earlier hearing an expert brought in by WorkSafe to investigate the deadly car wash suggested that better signage could have saved Mr. Papageorgiou’s life.
Dr. Peter Hart told the court that motorists entering the car wash had no idea if the access codes they used to enter the car wash had been entered correctly.
“I came to believe that signage could have reduced the risk of this type of incident, as the driver would have been informed that the code had not been accepted and so the car was not allowed to enter the car wash,” he told police. court.
Dr. Hart said gReen flashing arrows directing motorists to enter the car wash added to the confusion.
“The flashing green arrows inviting the driver to enter the car wash can be suppressed unless the code is accepted,” he said.
“I think the presence of those green flashing arrows is quite confusing to a motorist because it is quite possible that a code will not be accepted and yet it looks like the motorist is being invited to enter the car wash.
“As a result, the driver has to get out of the car or drive to repair it.”
The gas station in Springvale where a 73-year-old was crushed to death. It was then branded as a Puma service station. Chevron bought the company after the accident
Documents released to Daily Mail Australia revealed that Papageorgiou screamed in pain as staff, police and paramedics desperately but unsuccessfully tried to free him.
The court heard police and paramedics responded quickly to the emergency, arriving within minutes of Mr Papageorgiou becoming trapped in the car wash.
According to documents, Mr. Papageorgiou was left “screaming and unable to move”.
“Alerted by another customer, gas station sales associates tried but were unable to free the man and called emergency services,” documents said.
“Minutes later, two ambulances arrived at the scene, Victoria Police members were also present.”
The court heard that paramedics were unable to free him and immediately determined that the man’s heart had stopped beating.
It took Country Fire Authority firefighters 16 minutes to get to the scene and free Mr Papageorgiou from the machine.
Paramedics were then able to ‘reanimate’ the unconscious Mr. Papageorgiou and took him to hospital.
However, Mr. Papageorgiou died days later due to the long period without oxygen in the brain due to ‘crash asphyxia’.
The hearing continues.
CHEVRON CHARGED AFTER PUMA BUYING OUT
Chevron Australia Downstream Fuels, which operates the car wash, has been charged by WorkSafe with four violations of the Health and Safety Act.
Chevron offered its condolences to the family of the dead man, but disputed that it was the operator of the car wash at the time.
“Safety is Chevron’s top priority, and although the incident occurred before Chevron commenced retail operations in Australia, Chevron has fully cooperated with any investigation into the incident,” a spokesperson told media several days after the tragedy.
Chevron did not acquire Puma Energy (Australia) Holdings until the year after the incident, which operated the gas station and car wash at the time.
According to court documents, the operators failed to take reasonably practicable measures to mitigate risks, including the failure to install signage instructing drivers not to leave their vehicles while the car wash was in operation, and the failure to install anti-collision bars or other systems that detect imminent collision between moving parts and obstacles in the wash area.
WorkSafe also claimed that the gantry legs were fitted with metal braces that reduced the amount of space for cars, people and other items in the washroom, and it was reasonably possible to eliminate or reduce the risk by removing those braces.
The fourth charge involves malfunctions in the car wash’s control system, which allowed customers to drive into the wash room and leave the car on foot to enter an access code to start the wash cycle.
“It was reasonably feasible for Chevron to eliminate or mitigate the risk by installing boom gates that would only allow access to the wash area upon entering a valid access code,” court documents allege.