Driver had cannabis, sped, was tired, not meant to drive

SENTENCED: Donald Newman was given community work for causing the deaths of Margaret Turnbull and Trent Whitburn when his truck ploughed into their car.
SENTENCED: Donald Newman was given community work for causing the deaths of Margaret Turnbull and Trent Whitburn when his truck ploughed into their car.

The partner of a man killed when the car he and his Levin-based mother were in was rammed by a truck says she fears going to sleep because of nightmares of the two victims being engulfed in flames.

Donald Brendan John Newman, 43, was sentenced in the Palmerston North District Court yesterday 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 the NZ 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 blaze and crash was so severe police could not immediately tell how many people were inside the Nissan.

Whitburn's partner, Suede Morresey, 21, read her victim impact statement to the court, saying she feared going to sleep because of the nightmares she had.

"All I see is them in flames, and Trent screaming for help, and I can't save him," she said through tears.

Their son Hohepa, 23 months old, was now growing 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 had with Newman had not been any help.

Defence lawyer Paul Murray said a blood test taken in hospital after the crash found THC - the active ingredient in cannabis - in Newman's system, but it would not have contributed to the crash.

He had stopped in Sanson to fill his truck before continuing towards Levin, and likely fell asleep at the wheel because he was too warm.

There was nothing Newman could do to make things right for the family of his two victims, Murray said.

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.

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