Bus driver jailed for fatal crash

AFTERMATH: The remains of the bus following the crash that killed an elderly man.
AFTERMATH: The remains of the bus following the crash that killed an elderly man.

An Auckland bus driver who exceeded the speed limit and crashed into a tree, killing an elderly passenger, has been jailed for nearly three years.

On February 28 last year, Feuu Leilua, 53, was driving his Howick and Eastern bus along Hill Rd in Manurewa - a route he travelled many times during his eight years in the job.

Inexplicably, he came over the brow of a hill at 76kmh - well over the 50kmh limit - and tried to pass the car in front.

Leilua lost control of the bus and after narrowly missing a taxi heading in the opposite direction, smashed into a tree.

Though the front of the vehicle took the brunt of the blow, it was the passengers who sustained the most severe injuries.

Such was the force of the impact, Leilua and three passengers were thrown out of the bus on to the road.

John Raymond Wilkins, 88, suffered blunt force head and neck trauma and died at the scene, just down the road from Elmwood retirement village where he lived.

Devastated members of his family were at Manukau District Court last week to watch Leilua, who had no previous convictions, sentenced to two years nine months imprisonment for dangerous driving causing death.

He also pleaded guilty to two counts of dangerous driving causing injury to a 12-year-old girl and a 9-year-old boy.

The boy received deep cuts to his head and face while the girl sustained a plethora of injuries including a broken leg in two places, a broken collar bone, facial injuries and a split tongue.

Initially Leilua told police and bus company bosses the brakes had failed but a police serious crash unit investigation showed that was a lie.

His lawyer Tua Saseve said his client had powered the bus up the hill but neglected to compensate when he reached the top.

As the bus quickly approached a hatchback in front, Leilua tried to pass it on the left but in doing so hit the curb, which caused the bus to veer back into the middle of the road.

In trying to avoid oncoming traffic, the vehicle ploughed into a tree.

Saseve said it was not "a persistent or deliberate act" but Crown prosecutor Mark Williams said the excessive speed coupled with the illegal manoeuvre made it a very serious offence.

"This wasn't a simple error of judgement. It was clearly dangerous," Williams said.

Judge Charles Blackie accepted that in all other aspects of life Leilua was "a good man" and was clearly remorseful.

"I wouldn't know where to begin or how to start apologising because I know there are not enough words to express my sympathy. I know you're all experiencing a level of pain most people can't imagine or will never experience," Leilua said in a letter to the victims.

Howick and Eastern Buses general manager Sheryll Otway said as a result of the incident, all vehicles had been installed with a high-tech system which logged drivers' habits and allowed them to address potential mistakes.

Leilua was also banned from driving for three years.