Paramedic fell asleep before fatal crash

An ambulance driver is on trial accused of causing the death of a woman he was taking to hospital.
An ambulance driver is on trial accused of causing the death of a woman he was taking to hospital.

A paramedic fell asleep at the wheel of his ambulance, causing a crash that killed a woman being taken to hospital in Adelaide, a court has heard.

Matthew James McLean has gone on trial in the South Australian District Court after pleading not guilty to one count of causing death by dangerous driving and two counts of causing harm.

The charges relate to the death of 48-year-old Karen Biddell who was being transported from her home near Port Pirie to Adelaide for non-urgent treatment to leg ulcers.

At about 2.30am on August 16, 2016, the ambulance veered onto an embankment and rolled.

The crash also injured another ambulance officer and the dead woman's daughter.

Opening the crown case on Wednesday, prosecutor Mark Norman SC told the court that the ambulance was on cruise control when it started to veer off the road.

It struck a small tree at one stage and as the driver fought to get it back under control it ran up an embankment.

"All of that caused the ambulance to roll. It rolled over once and actually ends upright," Mr Norman said.

The prosecutor said after the crash McLean told people at the scene that he had fallen asleep and that before the accident had stopped to get coffee to "keep himself going".

The court was told the paramedic had worked 11 shifts in the previous 12 days, including four night shifts in the five days before the crash.

Mr Norman said McLean had volunteered for overtime in the days prior to the accident when he would normally have been having time off.

Checks after the accident revealed no trace of drugs or alcohol in his system.

But in an opening statement, defence counsel Stephen Apps said an expert had determined that his client was suffering from undiagnosed sleep apnoea at the time.

"You'll be asked to find, as a reasonable possibility, that Mr McLean suffered from sleep apnoea at the time of the incident, and that caused him to fall asleep suddenly and without any warning," Mr Apps told the jury.

He said McLean would not have been driving that night had he been aware of the risks.

The trial was continuing.

Australian Associated Press