Driver thought drag race was over

CHARGES: Matthew O'Sullivan.
CHARGES: Matthew O'Sullivan.

Matthew O'Sullivan thought a drag race was over when his mate sped past him, through an intersection and into a tree.

O'Sullivan had been leading the Ford vs Holden race down a rural Napier road but hit the brakes approaching the Meeanne Rd intersection.

The cars allegedly reached 180kmh when they raced on February 19 last year to see which car was faster.

TRAGIC LOSS: Maree Schafer.
TRAGIC LOSS: Maree Schafer.

The Ford slowed but Holden driver Brandan Lawrence was unaware he was approaching the intersection, saw an opportunity to pass, and accelerated.

Lawrence lost control and slid sideways for 120 metres before slamming driver's side first into a large tree.

Maree Schafer, 18, was sitting in the backseat of the Holden and suffered serious head injuries.She died at the scene.

O'Sullivan, 21, who was racing his new Ford Falcon, has been charged with racing causing death, and racing causing injury.

He is defending the charges in the Napier District Court this week.

He told police he thought the race was over because the intersection was the finish line.

The court heard that O'Sullivan was shocked when Lawrence accelerated past him. He told police he thought, "Are you for real?"

He knew Lawrence would not be able to stop before the intersection.

"I knew it [the intersection] was there, and I had to brake heavily."

O'Sullivan pulled up next to the crashed car and "freaked out a bit", the court heard.

Schafer was covered in blood and not responding. He tried to talk to Lawrence and his passenger and entered their injuries into his phone so he could later tell emergency services.

O'Sullivan told police he often went cruising with friends but was not a drag racer. That night was his first and only time, the court heard. 

"If I could turn back time I would but I can't, it happened," he said in a police statement.

Lawyer Scott Jefferson said O'Sullivan was not responsible for the crash because he braked and slowed down well before the intersection.

"He [Lawrence] gunned was not part of any race, the race was over."

Claiming the race had finished before the crash was "splitting hairs", Crown prosecutor Clayton Walker said.

Everyone that encouraged the "highly reckless, highly dangerous" race was responsible.

Lawrence, who was 19 at the time, had pleaded guilty and been sentenced for racing causing death and racing causing injury. Jesse Ellmers, a passenger who had encouraged the race and Adam O'Sullivan who started the race had also pleaded guilty and been sentenced on the two charges.

Two young inexperienced drivers racing powerful cars was "stupidity of the highest order," Walker said.

The trial has adjourned for the day. The judge will sum up tomorrow morning.

The Dominion Post