Manslaughter charges against truckie dropped

Manslaughter charges against a truck driver involved in a crash that killed a prominent Urenui couple have been dropped.

Henry Anthony Tawhai, 55, of Palmerston North, appeared before a High Court jury in New Plymouth yesterday denying he was guilty of a Land Transport Act charge of criminal nuisance.

As recently as November, Tawhai was facing a manslaughter charge.

In opening the Crown case, prosecuting solicitor Cherie Clarke told the jury Tawhai was guilty of a charge of criminal nuisance in that he failed to correctly secure the pipes loaded on his Volvo truck-and-trailer unit knowing it would endanger lives.

Tawhai himself had admitted to police he had used only half the weight-rated strops and chains needed to hold down the load, she said.

The charge follows the fatal crash on May 28, 2012, in which Ern and Nancy Sutton, both 83, died about 2.30pm on State Highway 3, near Epiha Rd, Motunui.

One of the big steel pipes on the truck ploughed into the front of their Mitsubishi Colt as they travelled south.

Mr Sutton, the driver, was cleared of any driver error. He had tried to pull left in a failed attempt to avoid the pipe heading for them.

Defence counsel Susan Hughes, QC, said there was no dispute the trailer overturned after its load became dislodged and as a result the Suttons had died.

She asked the jury to concentrate on the evidence surrounding the loading and unloading of the pipes and whether they found her client caused the accident or was it due to factors beyond his control.

About eight members of the Sutton family were in the public gallery yesterday to hear the first day of the trial expected to finish this week.

Senior Constable Mark Brown, of the Highway Patrol, was first to arrive after the crash and he described the scene of devastation and confusion.

Constable Aaron Peters, of Waitara, spoke to the truck driver in the back of the ambulance.

He told him he worked for New Zealand Freighters and was transporting the pipes from Bell Block to Auckland. The driver told the police officer he heard a noise, the pipes moved and the truck rolled.

Logistics manager Philip Shewry, 52, for Pipes New Zealand at Bell Block, said he and store manager Barry Watson had helped load the pipes on to Tawhai's truck.

He believed that the safety of the load was the responsibility of the driver.

At one point Tawhai appeared to have ignored his call for him to put packing in place, or didn't hear him, so Mr Shewry said he did it himself.

Crown prosecutor Cherie Clarke said Tawhai said he put a fifth chain over the load but Mr Shewry said he did not see this happen.

As he recalled there were two chains holding the bottom two and two over the top.

Twenty minutes after Tawhai left he rang One Plus One Logistics to tell them not to send him again.

"I said not to send the driver again. He was angry, at what I don't know. He was not approachable."

Mr Shewry said bolsters (cradles) were not used, such as those used on logging trucks, because the pipes were too large.

Taranaki Daily News