Birtles' conviction likely if still alive - coroner

Last updated 05:00 26/06/2014

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A conviction for a well-known Cromwell man involved in a fatal head-on crash was probable if he had not been terminally ill, says Otago Southland coroner David Crerar.

Kirra Lee Smith, 23, a United States national, was killed in the crash on the outskirts of Alexandra on July 29 last year when Max Birtles, 63, crossed onto the wrong side of State Highway 8 near Butchers Dam.

Crerar's report said the evidence satisfied him that Birtles' driving was below the standard of a normal and prudent driver and for reasons unknown, but possibly related to illness, he crossed the centre line.

Smith worked in a bar in Wanaka and was driving with a friend, Tessa Senior, in the passenger seat when there was a head-on crash.

Birtles, who was terminally ill, faced charges of careless use of a motor vehicle causing death and careless use causing injury, but the case was stayed on medical grounds. Birtles died on January 27.

His lawyer previously said he planned to defend the charges.

Crerar's report cited a police crash analyst, who calculated that Smith's Toyota was travelling at 90kmh and Birtles' Captiva at 100kmh and that Smith tried to veer left.

"It is probable that, if Birtles had not been suffering from a terminal illness he would have been prosecuted by the police and it is probable that a conviction against him for the offences . . . would have been entered.

"Maxwell Birtles recalled pulling the Captiva to the road near Fruitlands and thought that this must have been to make a telephone call or write a note necessary for his employment.

"The next thing he remembered was the collision," the report said.

Crerar said Smith was unable to avoid a crash and she must take no responsibility for it.

Birtles was well-known in Central Otago, he was involved in heritage since the 1980s and was pivotal in the development of the Old Cromwell town precinct.

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