Texting ruled out of car crash

CALEB HARRIS
Last updated 05:00 29/11/2013
Tegan Moyes
CRASH VICTIM: Tegan Moyes, 16.

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A teenage girl's death was not caused by her childhood friend texting just before they crashed, a judge has decided.

Amanda Rose, 18, pleaded guilty in August to careless driving causing the death of passenger Tegan Moyes, 16, whom she described outside court as "my mate".

But since then she has disputed a section of the police summary of facts stating that the accident was at least partly due to her being distracted by texting immediately before the crash.

In a disputed facts hearing in the Masterton District Court yesterday, police prosecutor Garry Wilson tried to prove beyond reasonable doubt that texting was a factor in the crash on February 21, just north of Masterton.

He told Judge Chris Tuohy that it mattered whether Rose's lack of care leading to the crash was caused by texting or by some other distraction, since texting while driving was an offence, whereas simply talking to a passenger, for example, was not.

Judge Tuohy accepted this, saying the texting issue could have a bearing on the severity of sentencing.

Wilson said records from McDonald's in Masterton showed Rose had been there about 3.05pm to get food for herself, Tegan and her boyfriend, who was working at Opaki roadworks, north of Masterton.

During the journey from the restaurant to the accident scene, close to the roadworks, she sent several texts, the last one "within a minute" of the 111 emergency call made by a bystander after the crash, he said.

He called witness Victoria Bunny, who was following immediately behind Rose when she crashed, and who made the 111 call.

Rose wept while the court heard a recording of that call, in which Bunny says: "She's breathing . . . she's not good."

Evidence from Bunny's cellphone provider, Telecom, submitted in court indicated she made the call at 3.12pm, soon after witnessing Rose's car leave the road in what she described as a "huge cloud of dust".

Wilson then called an expert from Rose's cellphone provider, 2degrees, who said network data indicated Rose sent texts between 3.08pm and 3.11pm, while she would have been driving.

However, defence lawyer Jock Blathwayt showed the court a copy of 2degrees' standard prepay conditions, which say factors such as radio or geographical interference, network overloading or faults could all cause delays in sending texts.

He also drew the court's attention to a reply from Rose's boyfriend sent at 3.12pm, which was not delivered to her phone until just before 6pm.

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Rose told the court that, after leaving McDonald's, she left her phone between the seats and did not use it. It did not "go off" with a beep noise to indicate a text had been received while she was driving, she said.

Wilson said 2degrees' records showed her boyfriend text her wanting to know where she was with the food, at 3.08pm, and that she responded with a text saying, "Comin - where you?" at 3.11.54, only "seconds" before the emergency call. But Rose responded that she sent that message while still at McDonald's.

Judge Tuohy said there were "uncertainties around the edges of the evidence", including the lack of synchronisation between the different time sources.

He found police had failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Rose's inattention was caused by her typing or sending a text message. He remanded her for sentencing on December 12.

Outside court, Rose said she was relieved by the decision. She disputed the police version of events because "I didn't want something that I didn't do on my record".

Admitting her fault in an accident which killed her friend was not as hard as bearing the loss of Tegan, whom she had known since kindergarten, she said. "It was all about my mate."

She described Tegan as "bubbly, real chilled, a crack-up, funny - my kind of person" and said she had learned one big lesson: "It's too easy for someone to die."

- Fairfax Media

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