Crash victim asks judge not to jail sleepy driver

SUZ BASSETT: Doctors say she will suffer chronic pain for the rest of her life.
SUZ BASSETT: Doctors say she will suffer chronic pain for the rest of her life.

A Karori mother sentenced to a life of pain when a sleepy driver ploughed into her car has asked a judge not to send the man to jail.

"Closure" came for Suz Bassett yesterday, a year after a driver travelling at 100kmh on State Highway 1 near Hunterville fell asleep, crossed the centre line and collided with her head-on.

Her spine cracked and her spleen ruptured, her skull fractured in three places and her knee was shattered.

Doctors gave her a 5 per cent chance of survival and now predict she will suffer chronic pain for the rest of her life.

The driver, Tevita Drotakileqaimakoi Tokalauvere, 25, was sentenced to complete 400 hours' community work, pay $10,000 reparation at $20 a week and disqualified from driving for a year at Upper Hutt District Court yesterday.

Ms Bassett asked Judge Susan Thomas to spare him from jail because it would be too harsh.

She said afterwards: "They told me that he was young and had the rest of his life ahead of him and ... I didn't know if [jail] would serve a useful purpose ... The police prosecutor said he didn't intend to fall asleep. That wasn't his intention to harm me."

Ms Bassett had to give up her job as an ecologist, in which she would tramp for hours to monitor kiwi eggs, and spend months in hospital in intensive care and rehabilitation.

Tokalauvere had apologised to her and was "really remorseful".

She requested that he complete his community work for an organisation like DOC. "I am of course very biased as an ecologist."

Tokalauvere said after the hearing that he had been hurrying to get to Auckland from Wellington with his former partner before the accident and was "really tired".

"I was thinking of stopping but I did want to get to Taupo before midday ... because my girlfriend had to start work."

He thought of the crash every day and was afraid of cars. "Whenever I go into a car I'm always scared."

He hoped to find a job now that the court case was over so he could pay her more per week.

"I'm just glad that she's all right and I'd do anything to help her out. I know what happened to her will be there forever."

Initially in a wheelchair, Ms Bassett now walks with crutches and will continue to recover with the help of her daughter on her small bike. Emma, 4, still demands an active mother on trips to Karori Park.

"She said, `Oh Mummy, why don't you run?' and I had to say well I'm not going to be running after a small bike any time soon but I am walking.

"Whatever I achieve she's reminding me that there is something else to do, which is awesome."

The Dominion Post