Speed limit cut, safety fixes mulled after five killed in Strathmerton crash

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The speed limit along a notoriously dangerous stretch of road in Victoria’s north will be lowered and a raft of other life-saving measures considered after five people were killed in a multi-vehicle crash at Strathmerton.

The local council is also in discussions with Google Maps to remove the road from the navigation platform’s default travel route through the region, in an attempt to divert drivers away from the area and onto safer routes.

The Strathmerton intersection a day after a horrific crash that killed five people.Credit: Nine News

Abattoir worker Debbie Markey, 62, was driving four colleagues back to their accommodation on Thursday last week when a Mercedes collided with her Nissan Navara near the intersection of Labuan Road and Murray Valley Highway.

Police allege the Mercedes ran through a give way sign and smashed into the Nissan, causing it to spin into the path of a milk tanker driving along the highway. Markey and the four overseas workers on board were instantly killed.

Residents consider the intersection where the crash took place a black spot in the local road network.

There have been at least four crashes at the junction since December 2021, as well as a number of near-misses in the vicinity that have put neighbours on edge and caused them to fear for their safety.

A man died, and two police officers were seriously injured after a van travelling at speed crashed into a police car at the intersection in February last year.

Investigators at the time alleged the driver of the van, a man from Tasmania, ran through the give way sign on the north side of the crossing, before smashing into the police car travelling on the highway.

Following the 2022 crash, Moira Shire Council, the Department of Transport and Planning, and Victoria Police conducted a safety audit of the area which identified a number of necessary improvements along the stretch of road.

Minor road upgrades were completed at the Labuan Road, Murray Valley Highway intersection last year, but Moira Shire Council acting chief executive Joshua Lewis said the recommendations from the audit were still being considered by the department.

The department has since been in discussions with the shire and agreed to drop the speed limit along Labuan Road from 100km/h to 80km/h as a means to reduce the risk of further crashes along the country road.

A temporary speed limit of 60km/h has been in place along Murray Valley Highway since the crash to protect those leaving tributes at the site of the tragedy.

A local source with knowledge of the discussions who spoke to The Age on the condition of anonymity said the department was also considering replacing the give way sign with a stop sign, installing warning lights, and removing a bump that impairs the visibility of the intersection.

The department would not confirm what measures were being looked at, but in a brief statement, a spokesman said it was working with the shire to improve the safety of motorists.

“We urge motorists to take care, drive to the conditions, and follow the road rules to keep everyone safe,” he said.

Hundreds of mourners gathered at Cobram’s Federation Park on Wednesday to pay tribute to those killed in the crash.

“There is very little to match the experience of grief in a small community. Its effects ripple throughout our homes and our workplaces, knowing that someone has been touched by the sadness and loss it causes,” Lewis told the crowd.

“However, I assure everyone here tonight that the council will do everything it can to assist those who have been affected and to work to ensure that road safety remains a top priority in all our work.”

Moira Administrator John Tanner signs the condolence book on Wednesday at a vigil for the five people killed in the Strathmerton crash as Moira Shire acting chief executive Joshua Lewis looks on.

Lewis will meet with the chief executive officers at the Indigo, Wodonga, and Towong shires to come up with a plan to improve road safety along the Murray Valley Highway east of Echuca.

The driver of the Mercedes, 29-year-old Christopher Dillon Joannidis, has been charged with five counts of dangerous driving causing death.

He will appear in Shepparton’s Magistrates Court in September.

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