Coroner says acquitted driver probably did kill teacher in failed suicide bid

Napier kindergarten teacher Pam McGarva, who died in July 2014 after a car crash left her in a coma for 10 days.

Napier kindergarten teacher Pam McGarva, who died in July 2014 after a car crash left her in a coma for 10 days.

A driver acquitted of the manslaughter of Napier teacher Pam McGarva probably caused her death in a failed suicide bid, a coroner has found.

McGarva, 55, died as a result of a collision between her car and one being driven by a woman near Taradale on July 9, 2014.

Coroner Tim Scott has suppressed the other woman's name, along with some other names and evidence.

This is the car driven by the woman who crashed into Pam McGarva on July 9, 2014. McGarva, 55, died in hospital ten days ...
Supplied

This is the car driven by the woman who crashed into Pam McGarva on July 9, 2014. McGarva, 55, died in hospital ten days later. Coroner Tim Scott has suppressed the name of the driver.

She stood trial for manslaughter, with police alleging she attempted to take her own life after her boyfriend broke up with her.

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A jury acquitted her in late 2015.

Coroner Tim Scott has ruled McGarva was probably killed by a driver trying to take her own life. "I do not think that ...
WARWICK SMITH/FAIRFAX NZ

Coroner Tim Scott has ruled McGarva was probably killed by a driver trying to take her own life. "I do not think that she meant to cause harm, much less death, to Pamela."

The woman did not give evidence at her trial, but was summonsed and required to provide evidence at McGarva's inquest in November last year. Evidence that had been ruled inadmissable at her trial was presented at the inquest.

In a finding released by McGarva's family on Wednesday, Scott said "there is no logical or likely explanation for how and why the crash occurred, other than it being an attempt by [the woman] to take her life".

The chance that she lost control of her car for some other reason, such as tiredness or distraction, was "a possibility rather than a probability, and a remote, even fanciful, possibility at that," he said.

SNAP DECISION

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As she saw another car approaching, "she made what was probably a snap decision (hence her seatbelt remained on) to drive into the other car in the hope that this would cause her own death".

"I do not think that she meant to cause harm, much less death, to Pamela," Scott said.

"To my mind, she was thinking about her own position and what the outcome might be, rather than intending to cause any harm to Pamela."

FAMILY FRUSTRATION

McGarva's brother Neil said jurors at the woman's trial would "without doubt" have found her guilty if they had heard the inadmissible evidence.

He said the family believed the crash had been caused deliberately since before the trial.

"It was very frustrating knowing what the jurors were not told.

"All relevant history prior to the accident should have been presented to the jury. They were asked to make a decision without any information about her history.

"It kept her out of prison."

"UNRELIABLE" EVIDENCE

The coroner also found the evidence provided by the woman's father to be unreliable. Her father told the inquest he had never had any reason to believe she wanted to commit suicide, yet the inquest was played a 111 call made by him in 2012 in which he said: "There's a chance she might just drive into someone and kill herself or someone else."

This recording had been ruled inadmissable at her trial.

The inquest also heard from a police officer who spoke to the father after the crash, and recalled him saying that he "wouldn't be surprised if [my daughter] tried to commit suicide by crashing".

Scott found there was "significant evidence about [the woman's] suicidal tendencies that can be relied upon". 

HEAD-ON IMPACT

The woman's car was travelling at between 80kmh and 98kmh when it crossed a 2.5-metre painted median strip and smashed into the front of McGarva's Subaru Impreza about 6.20pm. McGarva had been on her way to a quiz night at the Napier RSA. 

Scott said McGarva was "not responsible in any way for what happened".

"Sadly, she happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. She paid the ultimate price for this."

In criminal proceedings, such as the woman's trial, the standard of proof is "beyond reasonable doubt", and evidence can be excluded if it is deemed to be hearsay or privileged.

But a coroner can consider all evidence, and the standard of proof is the "balance of probability", which means more than 50 per cent likely.

DOUBLE JEOPARDY

The woman cannot be tried again on the manslaughter charge, as double jeopardy laws, enshrined in the Bill of Rights Act, protect people against the "patent injustice" of being accused twice of the same offence.

A defendant can be tried a second time only if new and compelling evidence comes to light.

Scott's ruling is similar to the finding of coroner Garry Evans 2012, in which he said the Kahui twins' fatal injuries could have been caused only while they were in the care of their father Chris Kahui, and that Kahui gave a false account in his 2008 trial, at which he was acquitted of murder.

Kahui was not tried again.

A police spokeswoman said there was no intention to retry the woman involved in McGarva's death.

WHERE TO GET HELP:

Lifeline (open 24/7) - 0800 543 354

Depression Helpline (open 24/7) - 0800 111 757

Healthline (open 24/7) - 0800 611 116

Samaritans (open 24/7) - 0800 726 666

Suicide Crisis Helpline (open 24/7) - 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.

Youthline (open 24/7) - 0800 376 633. You can also text 234 for free between 8am and midnight, or email talk@youthline.co.nz

0800 WHATSUP children's helpline - phone 0800 9428 787 between 1pm and 10pm on weekdays and from 3pm to 10pm on weekends. Online chat is available from 7pm to 10pm every day at www.whatsup.co.nz.

Kidsline (open 24/7) - 0800 543 754. This service is for children aged 5 to 18. Those who ring between 4pm and 9pm on weekdays will speak to a Kidsline buddy. These are specially trained teenage telephone counsellors.

Your local Rural Support Trust - 0800 787 254 (0800 RURAL HELP)

Alcohol Drug Helpline (open 24/7) - 0800 787 797. You can also text 8691 for free.

For further information, contact the Mental Health Foundation's free Resource and Information Service (09 623 4812).

 - Stuff

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