Cannabis in driver's system after fiery crash
A Hamilton man had the active ingredient from cannabis in his system, should have been on a compulsory break and constantly sped on the night he caused the death of a Levin woman and her son in a firey crash, a court has heard.
He was also driving a vehicle which had been tampered with to enable it to speed, had previous convictions for careless driving, and only slept four hours the night before trying to drive from Hamilton to Levin.
Donald Brendan John Newman, 43, was sentenced in the Palmerston North District Court today to 220 hours community work for two charges of careless driving causing death.
He was also disqualified from driving for 14 months, and must pay $6000 emotional harm reparation to his victims' families. He had already been disqualified from driving all classes of vehicle apart from cars and motorcycles for eight years by New Zealand Transport Agency.
His victims, Margaret Joan Turnbull, 51, and her son Trent Cole Whitburn, 20, were heading south on State Highway 1 on January 8.
Their Nissan car was travelling slowly behind a truck that was transporting a 110-tonne catamaran in two parts from Palmerston North to Foxton. Between the catamaran and the Nissan was a Big Chill truck.
Newman crashed his Freight Lines-contracted truck into the back of the Nissan, ramming it into the Big Chill truck. The car burst into flames, and both truck drivers managed to escape before flames engulfed their vehicles.
The fire caused extensive damage to the road, which had to be locked for more than 15 hours while it was repaired and investigated. The blaze and crash was so severe police could not immediately tell how many people were inside the Nissan.
Defence lawyer Paul Murray said a blood test taken in hospital after the crash found found THC - the active ingredient in cannabis - in Newman's system, but it was not the contributing factor for the crash.
He had stopped in Sanson to fill his track before continuing towards Levin, and likely fell asleep at the wheel due to being too warm.
"The truck was in cruise control along a straight piece of highway.
"He has come to, but it was plainly far too late."
There was nothing Newman could do to make things right for the family of his two victims, Murray said.
Whitburn's partner Suede Morresey, 21, read her victim impact statement to the court, saying she feared going to sleep due to the nightmares she had.
"All I see is them in flames, and Trent screaming for help, and I can't save him."
The two had been together for four years, but had been off-and-on for the last year together. Morresey said the two of them had made back up two days before the crash.
"On January 8 I kissed my partner for the last time and he replied 'I love you, I will see you in the morning'.
"I said 'I love you too, be safe'."
Their son Hohepa, now 23 months old, now grew up without a father figure, she said.
"Every morning when he wakes up he asks where his dad is.
"How can I tell my son his dad is not coming home? How do I tell him his nan is not coming home?
"I can't bring myself to do it."
She said the restorative justice meeting she held with Newman had not been any help.
Prosecutor Sergeant Mike Toon said it was not a case of "classic carelessness". Newman had falsified his logbook records for that night, should have been on a compulsory break at the time of the crash, and had travelled at an average speed of 95kmh when the speed limit for the kind of truck he was driving was 90kmh.
The truck's internal speed limiter had been tampered with to allow him to speed, and the cannabis in the system was an aggravating factor, Toon said.
Judge Jennifer Binns said the crash was a "tragic incident which had a profound effect on many people".
The level of THC in Newman's blood was consistent with him having smoked a cannabis cigarette between one and seven hours before the crash.
However, Newman had maintained he smoked cannabis on New Year's Eve and on January 3.
"It is accepted that THC possibly stays elevated in the blood when used consistently," the judge said. "There is no evidence it had a causitive effect, but it must be taken into account.
"It is highly irresponsible and unacceptable."
Newman also had previous convictions for careless driving, falsifying his logbook and exceeding 14 hours' work.
The judge said it was more appropriate for Newman to "pay something back to the community" than to spend time in prison.
- Manawatu Standard
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