The mother of a girl fighting for her life in Waikato Hospital has reached out to the 20-year-old driver charged with causing the crash that put her there.
Austin Brashears, 21, Daniela Rosanna Lekhno, 20, and Roch Jauberty, 21, died when the people-mover they were in rolled on a bend on State Highway 46 south of Turangi about 7.30am on Saturday.
United States citizen Stephen Houseman appeared in Auckland District Court yesterday, facing three charges of careless driving causing death and four of careless driving causing injury.
Meg Theriault, 21, remains in a critical condition in Waikato Hospital's intensive care unit, but after more than a week relying on a breathing tube, she is now breathing on her own.
Parents Todd and Deb Theriault said yesterday that they were aware Houseman had been charged and had met his parents.
"We feel their pain and he now has a journey of recovery much like our daughter does," they said.
"We understand there needs to be a court process and we support it.
"But that could have been any one of our kids at the wheel. This was an accident – all our kids were pursuing their dream. Nobody was intentionally doing anything that would harm anyone."
Mrs Theriault said her daughter's accident and ongoing recovery was life-altering in so many ways.
"There's a reason we are here and we have full faith in the team at Waikato Hospital who have just been outstanding. I can't talk highly enough about them.
"This public health system is nothing like what we've got in the US and when I explain it to my friends back home, they can't believe it.
"We could not have fathomed how much support we would get, from everyone we encounter. You Kiwis are special people," she said.
They said their daughter was a fighter and her progress was encouraging.
In court, media applications to take photos and film Houseman were refused so his lawyer, Marie Dhyrberg, could have time to consider the requests.
"He's only 20, he's not from here and he's still suffering himself from injuries as well," Ms Dhyrberg said. "It's too soon, but there will be an opportunity at a later stage for those photographs."
Houseman has been asked to surrender his passport.
Ms Dhyrberg did not ask for name suppression for Houseman.
The students were part of a group of students travelling in three vans on their way to walk the Tongariro Crossing in the Central North Island.
The students were from Boston University and on a six-month exchange with Auckland University.
Bay of Plenty road policing manager Inspector Kevin Taylor said the decision to lay charges came after careful consideration of all the information available.
"We are very aware that this is an incredibly difficult situation which has been traumatic for all those involved.
"As with any investigation into a serious road crash, we look at three factors which could have contributed – the vehicle, the environment and people," Mr Taylor said.
"We have done that and determined there is sufficient evidence to lay charges against the driver."
Police understood the tragedy had already had a significant impact on the man. "However, we are faced with a situation where three people have died and others are seriously injured and we must apply the law in an objective and dispassionate way."
He said once the case went through the courts, the coroner would then make a final decision about the cause of death.
"We have ruled out any use of drugs or alcohol by any of the young people involved, including the driver."
Houseman was remanded on bail until June 8.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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