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Death of Christian A Berkahn

About

The Makotuku Fatality report was transcribed from a newspaper cutting reporting the 1942 coroner's inquest relating to the accidental death of Christian August Berkahn at Makotuku railway station. The photograph and history of the station come from the Ormondville Rail Preservation Group Inc.

Makotuku Railway Station

Makotuku Station
Photo by Ken Cassells, Tawa

Makotuku Railway Station was the Hawkes Bay Line's railhead between 1880 and mid-1884, when Matamau Station took over this role. For some years it served the local sawmilling industry, however, that industry eventually ground to a halt and the station's status soon declined. Stationmasters were withdrawn from Makotuku Station around 1919, however, the station remained operational as a tablet station. It was operated by tablet porters until 1967. It was declared 'closed to all traffic' in 1978.

Makotuku Fatality

CORONER'S INQUEST

An inquest touching the circumstances of Mr Christian August Berkahn, who was accidentally killed near the Makotuku railway station on Thursday evening, was held by Mr Walter Dobson, coroner, yesterday evening. Sergeant G. S. Saunders represented the police and Mr C. S. Reymolds, stationmaster, Dannevirke, watched the proceedings on behalf of the Railways Department.

Mervyn M. Berkahn, a son of deceased, a member of the fighting services at present on leave, deposed that on Thursday evening he was at his parents' home. He saw his father leave home in his car to drive his sister and her husband to the Makotuku railway station. They were intending to catch the 7.30 p.m. train for thir home in Woodville. Deceased was the only member of the family to accompany them in the car. The distance from the deceased's home to the station would be about a quarter of a mile. Witness left deceased's home about 8.30 with his wife to return to his own home at the Makotuku post office. His father had not returned when he left. They had to cross the railway line to get to their home. When they approached the railway line near Makotuku station he saw his father's car standing across the main rails. He rushed over and looked in the car and found there was no one in it. The engine of the car was not running when he got in it. He could not remember wheter the car was in gear. He looked around for his father but could see no sign of him. He later located the body lying face downwards in the grass near the end of the railway platform and about eight or 10 yards from the railway line. There was a severe wound on his head. He was satisfied his father was dead. Dr Boyd and Constable Bradford were sent for. He saw tracks of the car in the grass from the road across the railway reserve to the railway line, which showed that the car had crased through two fences before it had come to a stop on the railway line. He was of the opinion that the deceased had had cranked the car while it was in gear and in doing so it had gone forward, pushing him in front of it. There was a fence post knocked over and stained with blood near where the body was lying. There was a fence post knocked over and stained with blood near where the body was lying. The cranking handle of the car was subsequently found near deceased's left hand. It appeared that deceased had held on to it as the car carried him in front of it. Deceased had driven a car for over 20 years.

Sergeant G. S. Saunders: While you were there did the goods train come along? - Witness replied thatfailing to find the starting handle and knowing that the battery was flat he went for assistance to remove the the car from the line and when returning the goods train pulled into the station. He heard the engine strike the car slightly and push it off the rails. The train had almost come to a stop when it struck the car.

Walter John Mildon, farmer, Makotuku, deposed that on Thursday evening he was at the station to pick up some papers for his son, who had a delivery run. Witness was leaving station at 7.35 p.m. when he saw deceased a few yards in front of him. Witness said good-night to deceased as he walked through the small gates to the place where his car was parked. Witness heard Mr Berkahn using the self-starter and saw him getting out of his car with the crank handle in his hand. He asked deceased if he was having trouble with his car and he replied that on account of the shortage of benzine his battery had gone flat. Witness then went along the road delivering papers and on returning five minutes later saw that the car had gone and presumed that the deceased had driven away. The night was very dark but starlight. When he saw deceased he was perfectly sober and appeared normal. He had known deceased for the past 30 years and had never seen him under influence of liquor during that time.

Evidence was given by Constable J. W. Bradford, of Ormondville, who was called to the scene of the fatality, that the car had been left parked facing the wire fence on the road boundary near the public entrance to the railway station. The body of the deceased was found lying face downwards at the extension of the railway platform 23 feet from the nearest railway line. The marks left by the car showed that it went through the boundary fence and travelled from where it had started to where it stopped - a distance of 174 feet 6 inhes. After the car had travelled 145 feet it struck a post, which was two feet in the ground, pushing it out, as well as tearing the fence down. Six feet six inches further on from the post was where the body was found, showing that the deceased had been pushed in front of the car for a distance of 151 feet 6 inches. No train had passed between the time deceased saw his relatives off and when the body was located. There was long grass on the clothing of the deceased, an indication that he had been pushed forward by the car.

Evidence was given by Dr E. F. Boyd as to the injuries sustained by deceased. Death would be mainly due to the impact of deceased's head with the post. The actual cause of death was concussion and injuries sustained. The marks of the car indicated the deceased had been pushed by the car across the paddock. There were no other contributory causes of death. Deceased had a chronic heart and being thrown to the ground would be sufficient to cause death.

The coroner returned a verdict that deceased died at the Makotuku railway station on Thursday, May 14th, at or about 7.45 p.m.; that the cause of death was concussion and injuries sustained through deceased cranking his car while in gear.