Police have accepted that no cell phone was involved in a fatal head-on crash that killed a motorcyclist, but questions remain about whether the car driver black-out or dozed off.
Twenty-four-year-old Tyrone Tiatoa, a father-of-one, was killed in the crash on Queen Elizabeth II Drive on February 9, when a car drifted across the road into his path.
Judy Rita McGirr, a 62-year-old teacher aide for special needs children, was the driver who has admitted careless driving causing death – but the reason may never be known.
Police originally said that her cellphone had been found open to the last text message she received, but they have now retracted that. They say a witness who used the phone to call for help at the scene, said the flip-top phone was closed.
McGirr’s counsel Steve Hembrow told McGirr’s sentencing session at the Christchurch District Court: “It is now accepted there is no evidence of cell phone use. All I can say is she was going home, relatively late, drifted across the centreline and then saw the headlight ahead.
“She may have dozed off, whatever, I can’t explain it . It is a window of only two or three seconds. She sees the light, panics and turns right rather than left.”
In a video-interview with the police two days after the crash, McGirr said: “Did I black out, doze off…I don’t know?”
Mr Hembrow said she had taken responsibility straight after the crash and had wanted to meet Mr Tiatoa’s family but had been advised not to, because the police investigation was continuing. The charge was not laid until July, and she had pleaded guilty almost immediately.
McGirr was a mother with adult children, who had been driving since she was a teenager without even a traffic ticket. “She is someone who obeys all the rules of life.”
Tearful family members described the loss of a 24-year-old father of a seven-year-old daughter.
They said they knew Mr Tiatoa as a responsible and safe and responsible motorcyclist. They were stressed by McGirr’s original statement to police that he had been on the wrong side of the road at the time of the crash, and a police warning for motorcyclists to be more careful.
“We want to know his life was valued not just by us but by the justice system,” said his great-aunt who described McGirr’s driving as “more than careless”.
His mother said McGirr had wanted to arrange a restorative justice meeting with the family before the sentencing but that was months too late and the family would not let it go ahead.
Judge Tom Gilbert acknowledged Mr Tiatoa’s whanau at the sentencing, and said he had the sense that they felt the law’s response to his loss was “completely inadequate”. They had expressed their loss in “extremely powerful” victim impact statements.
He said a restorative justice meeting had not happened because of a misunderstanding and he hoped that a meeting might still go ahead. He told McGirr: “Your remorse and upset at the carnage you have caused is clearly significant and genuine.”
He disqualified her from driving for 10 months, and ordered her to do 120 hours of community work. He also ordered her to pay $10,000 in emotional harm reparations. They money will be paid to Mr Tiatoa’s mother who will place it into a trust fund for his daughter.