Jury to decide on drag race death

Last updated 11:23 13/08/2014
Matthew O'Sullivan
CHARGES: Matthew O'Sullivan.
Maree Schafer
TRAGIC LOSS: Maree Schafer.

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A jury has retired to decide if a drag race was a significant cause of a crash that killed a young woman.

Driving his Ford Falcon, Matthew O'Sullivan reached speeds of 180kmh 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 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 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, has been charged with racing causing death, and racing causing injury.

He has been defending these charges in the Napier District Court this week.

O'Sullivan said he had thought the drag race was over when his mate 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 say 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.

In summing up today, Judge Jonathan Down said it was "totally irrelevant" that others involved had been charged.

Judge Down said the jury needed to determine if the race was "more than insignificant" in causing the crash.

"This is the golden question. You must be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt." 

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- The Dominion Post

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