One of the passengers crammed into a car that flipped and left two young people dead has expressed frustration at a court verdict.
A Palmerston North jury yesterday cleared Foxton man Michael James Needham, 23, of blame in the deadly crash.
"The loopholes in the justice system have let us down hard," Tia Kuiti said after Mr Needham was found not guilty on two charges of being party to manslaughter and four of being party to dangerous driving causing injury.
Louise Reichenbach, of Foxton Beach, 20, and Bailey Kinita, of Shannon, 14, were killed when the blue Telstar they were travelling in flipped on Foxton Beach Rd about 4.45am on February 20 last year.
Ms Reichenbach was qualified in occupational therapy and was seeking work in that field, while Bailey Kinita had just started schooling at Foxton's Manawatu College.
The other five people in the car were injured and the driver, William Nicholson-Kuiti, is serving a prison term of four years and nine months.
This week in the High Court at Palmerston North, Mr Needham, 23, faced Crown allegations he was racing or driving competitively with Nicholson-Kuiti and was partly responsible for the Telstar crashing.
But after deliberating for 3 hours yesterday, the jury returned unanimous not-guilty verdicts on all six charges.
Last night, Ms Kuiti took to her Facebook page in reaction to the news and said a "huge sorry" to the families of Ms Reichenbach and Bailey Kinita. "Just remember that this verdict was only [Mr Needham] being free of jail, but the rest of his life is gunna be hell.
"Maybe that's a better outcome for us since that's how it is for you."
Ms Kuiti was dismissive of those who thought Mr Needham wasn't guilty but said she understood his family standing by him.
On the night of the crash, the group had been to a party at Oroua Downs, before returning to Foxton.
At a park, Mr Needham performed donuts in his Honda Civic before everyone left. Seven people crammed into a Telstar that belonged to Ms Reichenbach's mother. It was driven by a drunk Nicholson-Kuiti and was to head to Shannon. But a last-minute change of heart meant Nicholson-Kuiti drove toward Foxton Beach to drop Ms Kuiti home.
Mr Needham was also heading there to drop off his passenger, Johnson Nicholson. After he overtook the Telstar, Nicholson-Kuiti lost control and it flipped. Ms Kuiti told the court that Ms Reichenbach, who was travelling in the car's footwell, had a premonition of her impending death. "I think I'm going to die", she had said. Two days after the crash Needham spoke to police and estimated he passed Nicholson-Kuiti's car at about 100kmh, although a police crash report estimated the Telstar was travelling between 108 and 127kmh when the driver lost control.
"I was a good distance in front of the car when the crash would have happened. William [Nicholson-Kuiti] wasn't speeding when I overtook him," Mr Needham told police.
He turned his car around and briefly returned to the scene.
"There was blood everywhere and people were screaming," he said. After helping for a while, he and Mr Nicholson returned to Foxton and told people what had happened.
At Palmerston North Hospital later that day, Ms Kuiti remonstrated with Mr Needham for leaving.
Defence lawyer Greg King said it was telling that Ms Kuiti was angry at him for that, rather than causing the accident.
Away from court, Mr Needham's father said he and his son did not wish to comment, nor did Ms Reichenbach's family.
Bailey Kinita's family could not be reached for comment last night.
- Manawatu Standard