Road layout an issue at fatal crash sentencing

The lay-out of a road in the Mackenzie Basin may have been a factor in a crash that killed two people and injured several more, a court has been told.

Defence counsel Simon Shamy provided a report about the intersection of Mcaughtries Rd and the Twizel-Omarama Rd.

Judge Raoul Neave said that Mr Shamy had submitted the road lay-out had “played a part” in the tragic events of April 2016, when seven-month old Aaron Chhetri, and his mother Mon Chhetri, were killed in the crash.

Tula Ram Chhetri, 45, the husband and father, was charged and faced sentencing in the Christchurch District Court on two charges of careless driving causing death, and also charges of causing injury. He had pleaded guilty.

The family are Bhutanese. They came to New Zealand in 2008 from Nepal and Tula Chhetri worked three jobs before the accident. He was a leader of his community in Christchurch.

Since the crash, he had been reduced to working part time and caring for his two youngest children.

Judge Neave said it was a “terribly tragic case”. Tula Chhetri had been fishing at Omarama with some of his family and had packed up to head home when the accident happened.

His daughter was sitting unrestrained the front passenger seat, and his son Aaron was in a baby-seat but not properly secured.

At the give-way sign at the State Highway, he drove through the sign and failed to see a car with three German tourists. He drove directly into their path.

There was no suggestion of excessive speed or alcohol, said Judge Neave.

Tula Chhetri’s wife and son were killed, his daughter was injured, and those in the other car received broken bones and internal injuries. One was hospitalised for 13 days and unable to return to Germany for six weeks because of a secondary infection.

Judge Neave said the report showed that as Tula Chhetri was driving towards the highway, the intersection was obscured from view until very late by a high bank. The view then improved, but the intersection was still partially obscured.

He said: “This is the sort of error that can be made by anyone, at any time, and I imagine it happens on a daily basis up and down the country without these consequences. This is one of those terrible and tragic misjudgements which has consequences out of all proportion to the offending.”

The court could not impose a greater punishment than Tula Chhetri had already received. He would carry his grief for the rest of his life.

Since the crash, he had lost a good deal of community support, leading to feelings of isolation.

Judge Neave disqualified him from driving for six months, and ordered him to make reparation payments totalling $4736.

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