An Argentinian tourist drove several kilometres on the wrong side of the road in a campervan before crashing head-on into a truck, a court has been told.
The two men in the truck were critically injured and one may still need a leg amputated.
In the Wellington District Court today, Arturo Osvaldo Groppo, 50, from Argentina pleaded guilty to five charges of aggravated careless driving causing injury on August 1 near Murchison.
Groppo was driving a rented campervan on State Highway 6, and his wife, two sons and two daughters were with him.
Police prosecutor Sergeant Barney Soutar said that in the 10km Groppo drove prior to entering Murchison he passed 14 arrows painted on the road showing the correct direction of travel.
Inside the campervan was a red label in the form of an arrow telling him to keep left.
He stopped briefly at a service station before pulling out on to the wrong side of the road.
A member of the public chased after him in a car trying to warn him flashing his lights and sounding his horn, the court heard.
About a kilometre on, the campervan collided with a light truck driven by Daniel Nathan with his passenger John Bell, on a corner with reduced visibility.
Both vehicles tried to swerve but collided head-on ending up crushed together and could not be initially separated.
Bell and Nathan were critically injured and trapped in the cab of their truck.
Groppo's wife was also injured and trapped, the court was told.
The only person wearing a seatbelt in the campervan was Groppo.
Specialist equipment had to be brought in by helicopter to get the trapped occupants out of the vehicles, and it took a tractor, hydraulic rams and a fire engine to pull the two vehicles apart.
Nathan's lower body was crushed. He is still in hospital and may need a leg amputated and could need life-long care.
Bell also had critical leg injuries and has been unable to return to work.
Groppo's wife needed multiple operations to stabilise her legs before she could be flown back to Argentina. Two of the children were also injured.
Groppo told police he could remember nothing of the crash and was used to driving on the right-hand side of the road.
Judge Bill Hastings ordered Groppo to pay $12,000 to Nathan, $8000 to Bell and make a $5000 donation to the Nelson Marlborough rescue helicopter service.
"But for the grace of God there could have been many deaths including your own family," he told Groppo.
Groppo is expected to return to Argentina.
His lawyer Andru Isac said the family had come for a dream holiday that had turned into a nightmare.
- © Fairfax NZ News