Driver in pipe deaths case gets community work

Last updated 08:14 13/02/2014
Henry Tawhai
CHARLOTTE CURD/Fairfax NZ
AWAITING SENTENCE: Henry Tawhai leaves the High Court in New Plymouth after pleading guilty to operating a truck carrying an unsafe load steel pipes.

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A Palmerston North driver whose insecure load of steel pipes spilled off his truck killing a Urenui couple was not the only one responsible, the High Court at New Plymouth was told.

Henry Anthony Tawhai, 55, was sentenced yesterday to community work after pleading guilty to committing criminal nuisance on May 28, 2012, at Motunui on State Highway 3 after failing to properly secure the 25-tonne load of pipes.

In sentencing, Justice Toogood said Tawhai had 25 years' experience in heavy transport work but on the day he picked up the pipes from Bell Block he received no training or instruction from his employer or anyone else as to the safety measures needed with the unusual load and configuration. And it was a serious error of judgment by Pipes NZ staff, who shared legal and practical responsibility with Tawhai for ensuring the load was secure, that they did not insist greater restraints were applied.

Yet Tawhai was the only person prosecuted, Justice Toogood noted.

He said he had to be mindful the charge carried a maximum penalty of one year's prison. Earlier charges of dangerous driving causing death, driving with cannabis in his blood, and manslaughter were dropped.

"Although there is no doubt that your failure to ensure that your load was secure led to these tragic deaths, you are not charged with an offence which holds you directly responsible," the judge said.

However, Tawhai's guilty plea reflected his acceptance of responsibility, at least in part, for the failure to secure the load.

Experts deemed the method of loading the smaller pipes into the larger pipes was "unusual and inappropriate".

The judge noted that Tawhai had for 25 years driven on the roads for many hours without committing any driving offence "and you are entitled to credit for that".

The judge rejected the cannabis in the driver's blood as an aggravating factor but criticised the action.

The level of the active ingredient, THC, was consistent with him smoking the equivalent of a single cannabis cigarette within four hours of the blood sample being taken.

"It needs to be said that it was highly irresponsible and unacceptable for a heavy transport operator to consume cannabis before working," the judge said. But the evidence fell short of making a connection between his use of cannabis and the manner of driving.

"That is why the earlier drug-related driving charge was withdrawn by the prosecution."

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Tawhai was sentenced to 225 hours of community work after a full 25 per cent reduction for his guilty plea. He was not disqualified from driving because his heavy transport licence was suspended from the time of the accident. Fairfax NZ

- Manawatu Standard

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