14 Jun 2012

US student pleads guilty to crash death charges

5:41 am on 14 June 2012

An American who has admitted causing the deaths of three fellow students in a crash near Turangi was driving in this country for the first time, court documents show.

Eight students, most from Boston University in their early 20s, were travelling in convoy with another vehicle of students to the Tongariro Crossing when their van rolled on State Highway 46 on 12 May.

Daniela Rosanna Lekhno, Roch Jauberty and Austin Brashears were killed in the crash and five others were injured.

Stephen Houseman, 20, appeared in the Auckland District Court on Wednesday and pleaded guilty to three counts of careless driving causing death and four counts of careless driving causing injury.

He was disqualified from driving for six months and ordered to pay just over $130 in court costs.

Court documents say the Turangi trip was the first time Houseman had driven in this country, and the first time he'd driven that kind of vehicle.

They say he last control of the van after going around a slight bend but could not explain why the vehicle left the road and rolled.

The documents say four of his fellow students were thrown from the van. They were not wearing seatbelts and three of them died from their injuries.

Houseman's lawyer had asked the court for a discharge, but the judge refused.

Injured student flying back to US

One of the students injured left New Zealand on Wednesday to return home to the United States.

Meg Theriault, 21, was treated at Waikato Hospital after suffering serious head injuries and woke up on 30 May asking for her parents.

In a statement, Todd and Deb Theriault thanked New Zealanders, saying they have been overwhelmed by the kindness shown to them and praised the medical care their daughter received.

The family flew out of Hamilton International Airport on a medi-flight bound for Boston in Massachusetts.