Organ donations from Steffan Pearce-Loe – killed in an accident with a hit and run driver on Gayhurst Road bridge – helped eight people, a Christchurch judge was told as he sentenced the driver.
The family told 56-year-old Timaima Tuilawa that they were deeply hurt and upset, and could not find forgiveness for the driver who left the 30-year-old on the bridge to die.
Tuilawa was not charged with causing his death when he was hit on the suburban bridge as he was out walking his dogs at 2.30am on July 5, but she admitted failing to stop and ascertaining injury after an accident in which someone was killed.
She claimed that she felt a bump and thought she hit a dog, and drove on. The impact tore the driver’s side wing mirror off the car. Her car was found at her home three days later.
Judge Brian Callaghan imposed 170 hours of community work and disqualified her from driving for a year. He said he hoped Tuilawa could be involved in helping with rehabilitation programmes.
Steffan Loe’s father, Barry Loe, told the court that his son had been an organ donor.
“Eight people, including a baby girl, were the recipients of his organs or body tissues and their lives have been significantly improved or saved by his gift.”
Mr Loe said a mother and son had arrived soon after the crash and found Steffan lying on the road with his two dogs curled up next to him. They helped him until emergency services arrived. He had been fatally injured and died in the hospital.
“If he had died on the road, his organ donations would not have been possible,” said Barry Loe. The family requested that Tuilawa’s fine be paid to Organ Donation New Zealand.
Judge Callaghan agreed and ordered that Tuilawa make a $500 emotional harm reparations payment to the family, which will be passed on as a donation to Organ Donation.
Other family members described knowing Steffan as a “super-bright, interesting boy”. One told Tuilawa: “I thought that a good, Christian woman like yourself would have stopped, even if you thought you hit a dog.”
Prosecutor Aja Trinder said it was beholding on a driver who thought they had hit something, to stop and find out whether someone was involved, even if they were scared late at night. Tuilawa’s failure to stop had meant that precious minutes were lost.
She said: “It is not possible to say whether it would have made a difference to the tragic outcome, but it is a matter of common sense – the earlier treatment is provided the better.”
Defence counsel James Rapley QC said Tuilawa was remorseful and expressed her deepest and sincerest apologies to the family. He described her as “a hard working, deeply religious, Fijian woman who accepted responsibility for the crime”. She worked two jobs, helped with children, helped at her church and the City Mission, and supported her husband who was not working, and her family overseas.
Judge Callaghan said he was sentencing Tuilawa for failing to stop and not for the crash that killed Mr Loe. He said it seemed it probably would not have changed the outcome if she had stopped, because of the significant head injuries Mr Loe received.
He said that even if she did not know what she had hit, she could have turned the car and looked by the light of her headlights, or returned afterwards. The simple explanation was that she had panicked and did not know how to “undo” the failure to stop.
Because of the damage to the vehicle, she must have known there had been a considerable impact, he said.