24 Apr 2017

US doctor told to pay $165k over fatal NZ crash

8:45 pm on 24 April 2017

The widow of one of the two men killed by a US tourist's careless driving near Nelson in February says it was an accident and she is glad he is not going to jail.

Kenneth Wolnak admitted charges of careless driving that caused a double fatality, and a further four charges of causing injury, after he did a U-turn on a highway that led to a three-vehicle crash.

The 63-year-old heart surgeon and his wife were holidaying in Mapua and had just left on a day excursion when he realised they were headed in the wrong direction.

Wolnak was sentenced this afternoon in the Nelson District Court, where he was ordered to pay a total of $165,000 in emotional harm reparations.

Judge Richard Russell described it as one of the largest ever orders of its kind.

Stephen Jayes, a 41-year-old father of two from Nelson, and Christchurch man Kevin Whitburn, 69, were killed in the crash.

Several other passengers in the vehicles, including Wolnak's wife, were injured.

At least five people have been injured in a crash between Richmond and Mapua on the Coastal Highway in Tasman District

The scene of the fatal crash in February near Mapua. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

The court ordered him to pay $80,000 to Mr Jayes' partner and $50,000 for causing injury to Janet Whitburn, Mr Whitburn's wife.

The other $35,000 would go to the two other injured passengers in the truck Mr Jayes was in.

'Terrible error'

Wolnak told Checkpoint with John Campbell he had made a "terrible error" and that he found it difficult to put his remorse into words.

And he said the restorative justice process had shaken him to his core.

"[It's] a process through which I can only hope that some peace is brought to these poor grieving folks.

"And a process through which I can make some sort of restoration, impossible as that is."

Mrs Whitburn told Checkpoint she had forgiven him for the crash that killed her husband.

"I'm glad that he didn't get a prison sentence. This is actually another step in the closure [process]."

Wolnak said it was remarkable to hear that.

"The kindness and particularly the forgiveness that I've received from some family members makes that weight all the easier to bear.

"Just my presence in the country reminds me of the terrible error I made."