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'Burden' lifted as ex-student comes clean

NICOLE PRYOR
Last updated 09:10 30/01/2013
FORMER STUDENT: Caitlin Dickson, 19, was in Kenya with a group from Bethlehem College when she was killed.
FORMER STUDENT: Caitlin Dickson, 19, was in Kenya with a group from Bethlehem College when she was killed in a minivan crash.
'TWO WONDERFUL PEOPLE': Dr Brian and Grace Johnston, two of three people from a Bethlehem College group killed in a minivan crash in Kenya.
'TWO WONDERFUL PEOPLE': Dr Brian and Grace Johnston were killed in the crash.

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After holding a heavy secret for almost a fortnight, 18-year-old David Fellows admitted he was the driver of the van that crashed in Kenya, killing four people.

Until yesterday, when Bethlehem College held a press conference, it had been reported a Kenyan man, Christopher Mmata, was the driver of the van on its fatal journey on January 15.

Though Mr Mmata was driving at the outset of the journey, Mr Fellows, who is a former pupil of the Tauranga college, took the driver's seat part-way through - something they had arranged before they left.

Minutes later, Mr Fellows lost control and crashed in wet conditions.

Mr Mmata, Tauranga couple Brian and Grace Johnston and former Bethlehem College student Caitlin Dickson, 19, were killed, and several others in the party of 19 received serious injuries. They were on a four-week volunteer mission, building and maintaining a school's facilities in Ma'hanga Village in the Vihiga District of the Western Province.

College principal Eoin Crosbie said Mr Fellows took responsibility immediately, but was told to keep quiet. The person who took charge, Calvin Ominde, the college's liaison man in Kenya, advised Mr Fellows to get back to New Zealand where he could tell his parents and the mission leader, Phil Russell.

"I think we've got to appreciate that they'd all been in a crash, he'd had a hit on the head, and Calvin arrived on the scene to absolute mayhem and carnage and wanted to look after people that are dying and injured and get them into hospital," Mr Crosbie said.

"David's going 'It's my fault, it's my fault' - but you had to simply park it and deal with the important issues, and then later on address that issue."

Since then, Mr Fellows had shouldered a "terrible burden".

"He's feeling considerably better I think, after sharing this information with his family and meeting with the other families," Mr Crosbie said.

Mr Fellows told his parents and one other student who was with him in the van, Mr Crosbie said.

"She told her mother, the families met and then I had to check it out and verify it, so that I knew the facts had changed - from Christopher to David," he said.

Mr Crosbie said he was told on Saturday, the day of the Johnstons' funerals, and the families of those who died were told on Sunday.

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Mr Fellows has been receiving counselling, and would continue to get help, Mr Crosbie said.

The decision about whether any charges over the crash will be laid lies with Kenyan police.

Those involved in the fatal crash had praised Mr Fellows for his efforts at the scene of the crash.

Sam McDougall, 18, Luke Fisher, 17, and Mr Fellows took control of matters after the crash, Joy Fisher told a press conference at the school.

Mr Ominde had presumed Mr Mmata was driving, due to where he was found at the scene.

Mr Ominde had concentrated on the dying and injured, and information was released that named Mr Mmata as the driver, Mr Crosbie said.

The college was "very sad" that Mr Mmata was named as the driver.

- Waikato

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