High-speed race led to passenger's death

RESPONSIBLE: Matthew O'Sullivan.
RESPONSIBLE: Matthew O'Sullivan.

The driver of a Ford who raced a Holden has been found responsible for the death of a young woman - although it was not his car that crashed.

Matthew O'Sullivan reached speeds of 180kmh in his Ford while racing a friend down a rural Napier road on February 19 last year.

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

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

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 back seat of the Holden Commodore and suffered serious head injuries. She died at the scene.

O'Sullivan, 21, who stopped safely at the intersection, was charged with racing causing death, and racing causing injury.

He defended the charges in the Napier District Court this week.

However, a jury today found O'Sullivan responsible for Schafer's death because he had actively taken part in the race.

The court heard that O'Sullivan thought the drag race was over when Lawrence sped past him.

He told police he had slowed down because the intersection was the finish line.

O'Sullivan said he had often gone 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.

The Crown said that everyone who 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.

Judge Jonathan Down said it was "totally irrelevant" that others involved had been charged. The jury were asked to determine if the race was "more than insignificant" in causing the crash.

Judge Down said the others involved were serving jail time and that was bound to be the outcome for O'Sullivan.

He remanded O'Sullivan in custody until sentencing next month.

The Dominion Post