Tiredness after a night flight from Melbourne and a long drive to South Canterbury led to a tourist falling asleep at the wheel and causing an accident in which his mother was killed.
Shu Na Lo, 27, a Chinese student living in Melbourne, admitted the charges arising from the head-on crash on the Fairlie-Geraldine Highway, when he appeared before Judge Jane Farish in the Christchurch District Court today.
He admitted careless driving causing the death of his mother, King Wai Yip, and injuries to his sister, May Wong Kot, and to 72-year-old Graham Dawson who was driving the car he struck head-on when his rental vehicle drifted across the road.
Defence counsel Miranda Rout said Lo was devastated to learn that he had been the cause of the accident. The family was now raising funds to fly their mother’s ashes home, through some “fairly complicated bureaucracy” in China.
They would have to buy a burial space and arrange a special cultural day for their mother to be buried.
Mrs Rout said: “There is no penalty that will ever exceed the guilt and grief that he will experience for the rest of his life, that he caused his mother’s death through an error of judgment, possibly falling asleep at the wheel. He has no memory of it.”
She said Lo was a student in Melbourne where his family was working hard to put him through a business management degree.
Police prosecutor Sergeant Paul Scott said Lo and his mother and sister had boarded a flight from Melbourne at midnight on September 30 and had then hired a rental car to drive to South Canterbury.
The rental car crossed the centre-line and collided with another vehicle on the Fairlie Geraldine highway about midday.
Lo’s mother was asleep in the back seat and not wearing a seatbelt. She was thrown from the vehicle and killed. His sister was the front seat passenger and received abdominal injuries.
The court was told Lo’s sister had spent a month in hospital, but was now out of hospital and in a wheelchair. She was ready to return to China but would need two more operations.
Judge Farish said it seemed that Lo had got off the night flight and had then driven a long way to South Canterbury. It was very likely he had fallen asleep.
She said that the other driver wrote that he could not describe the fright and consequences of the crash, but he said he was grateful to everyone who helped. “They were tremendous,” he wrote. The accident had slowed him down considerably, and he had not been able to drive again so far, but he was getting better every day.
Judge Farish disqualified Lo for 12 months on the charge of careless driving causing injury to Mr Dawson, and ordered him to pay $3500 emotional harm reparations. She convicted and discharged Lo on the charges involving the death of his mother and the injuries to his sister.