24 Feb 2017

Two tourist drivers sentenced in Dunedin for injury-causing accidents

8:21 pm on 24 February 2017

Two tourist drivers were sentenced in the Dunedin District Court today over separate crashes that left others injured.

Bernard Gendron, right, with his son, Marc.

Bernard Gendron, right, with his son, Marc Photo: Supplied

In one of the two cases, a tourist's careless driving in Dunedin had what was described as "dire consequences" after he hit a Canadian cyclist now in hospital with a brain injury.

Wei Zhang, 34, pleaded guilty earlier this week to hitting Bernard Gendron with the wing mirror of his camper van while trying to overtake him and his wife on Portobello Road on 11 February.

Mr Gendron has been in Dunedin Hospital since the accident, with a serious head injury and paralysis to the left side of his body.

His son Marc told the court that his father was making slow progress, but had been confused.

He posted on Facebook that the recovery process was a "crazy emotional rollercoaster... one step forward, two steps back".

The injured man will be flown back to Canada in an air ambulance in the next few days.

Marc Gendron said he met with Zhang earlier this week in a restorative justice conference, which he described as a good meeting.

He said Zhang had "apologised profusely", and the family were grateful for his offer to pay reparations towards his father's medical costs.

"We bear him no ill will whatsoever," he said.

Judge Michael Turner told the injured man's son careless driving cases were difficult ones because "there was no intent to cause anyone any harm".

The judge questioned Zhang about his experience driving large vehicles, and he replied through an interpreter that it was his first visit to New Zealand, and he had never driven a camper van before.

He had rented it in Christchurch just a few days before the accident, but had not been given instructions on how to drive it, he said.

Judge Turner said Zhang should have stopped and waited on the narrow roadway for oncoming traffic to clear before attempting to pass the two cyclists.

"Your lack of care has had dire consequences," he said.

The victim's wife was "traumatised" by witnessing the event, and had been scared for her own safety after Zhang narrowly missed hitting her as well, the judge said.

Zhang's lawyer, Anne Stevens, told the court of his clean driving record in China, and his work with blind and disabled children as evidence of good character.

He was not a wealthy man, and had to support his parents, but had raised $35,000 to pay to Mr Gendron's family, she said.

The judge convicted Zhang but spared him a fine, saying all the money he had raised should go to the family as reparations.

Hawaiian woman sentenced in head-on crash

Earlier, the judge sentenced another tourist driver, Hawaiian woman Barbara Lockwood, who was supported in court by a woman she had injured when she crashed head-on into an oncoming car.

The 63-year-old pensioner was driving on State Highway 8, south of Beaumont, and had been waiting to overtake a car towing a trailer for some time.

She eventually pulled out to pass, but a car came around the corner and Lockwood pulled to the right to try to avoid it.

However the oncoming car pulled to the left, and the two collided.

The driver of the other car suffered a broken sternum and her passenger suffered fractured ribs and bruising.

Lockwood had been in New Zealand working as a summer volunteer for the Department of Conservation, and was taking a holiday in a rental car when the accident occurred.

Judge Turner was concerned that her rental insurance, for which she paid a high premium, did not cover the victims' losses, or her own, due to a small clause in the agreement that the company expected her to drive with care.

Janine Dunn, who was injured in the crash, told Judge Turner the system had let Lockwood down, and the rental company's actions were "deplorable" in taking money from tourists, but refusing to pay out.

She said the evasive action taken by Lockwood in the crash had spared the victims from suffering more serious injuries.

Ms Dunn said Lockwood had no friends or family in New Zealand, so she had attended court today to support her.

Judge Turner acknowledged Lockwood had spent most of her life driving in the United States on the right side of the road, and her actions to swerve right during the crash were based on an "instinctive reaction".

She had borrowed $10,000 from her brother and was convicted and ordered to pay almost the whole amount in fines and reparations.

Both tourist drivers were sentenced just hours before being due to leave New Zealand and return to their home countries.