Driver who killed girlfriend free to stay

LAURA WALTERS AND JOSH FAGAN
Last updated 05:00 08/06/2014

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A Chilean-New Zealander who served 14 months in jail for killing his girlfriend in a car crash has won his fight to stay in New Zealand against the wishes of the victim's parents.

Felipe Gacitua was sentenced to three years in prison and disqualified from driving for four years in 2012 after pleading guilty to reckless driving causing death and reckless driving causing injury.

Gacitua killed his girlfriend of 18 months, Fay Roberts, in a head-on crash in East Tamaki in August 2011.

Roberts' father Harvey Roberts spoke of his disappointment with the decision to allow Gacitua to remain in New Zealand, saying "if the Government issued the deportation notice they should stand by that and deport him. I've got no desire to be confronted by his presence. I have no desire for me or my family to bump into him and be reminded of that pain or grief."

Through a combination of excessive speed, an inability to stop safely and driving around a traffic island the wrong way, Gacitua came into the path of another vehicle in the crash that claimed Roberts' life.

The other driver had no time to take evasive action and the two vehicles collided.

Gacitua faced deportation to Chile following his prison sentence, but successfully appealed on humanitarian grounds.

A new decision from the New Zealand Immigration and Protection Tribunal said there were "exceptional circumstances of a humanitarian nature that would make it unjust or unduly harsh for the appellant to be deported from New Zealand".

That was based on the length of time he had lived in New Zealand and that his family members in New Zealand would miss him "keenly". Gacitua has been in New Zealand since the age of 12, arriving in 2000.

"It is also relevant that the appellant is a young man grieving the death of his partner. His grief is compounded by the fact that he is responsible for her death."

He had no history or life experience relevant to an adult in Chile and his support network was in New Zealand, the judgment said.

Following Roberts' death Gacitua moved in with his sister Andrea Gacitua-Thomann and became introverted and stopped speaking to people, the decision said.

His sister said the prospect of losing her brother was "unbearable". "He has lost his lover, suffered a traumatic car crash, and spent 15 months in jail. I do not believe that he could have survived all of it without his family being here."

However, Gacitua was forced to move out of his sister's house because his bail conditions stipulated he was not allowed to live in the vicinity of the nearby Roberts family who did not want to be confronted with their daughter's killer.

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Harvey Roberts wrote a victim impact statement on behalf of himself, his wife Karen, their two surviving children and his parents.

"My wife continues to really struggle, she disappears into very dark places," he said. "My son has struggled recently with anxiety attacks. My daughter who's just turned 18 is in a similar place."

The loss did not get any easier over time, he said. "At some point, I don't know when, either time heals it or it just becomes numb, but we're certainly not there yet."

The tribunal's decision said it did not intend to trivialise the Roberts' grief. "There is no relief for them from the sadness and distress of the death of their family member other than that which they may find with the passage of time."

However, the deportation of Gacitua would do nothing to undo the underlying tragedy at the root of their grief, it said. There was also the possibility the Roberts' family would encounter one of Gacitua's siblings.

Gacitua also had a low risk of further dangerous driving and there was an "obligation" to "preserve family unity".

- Sunday Star Times

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