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Teen sentenced over crash that killed women near Waihola

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The crash occurred near Waihola in October last year. Photo / Stephen Jaquiery

A teenage driver who killed two mothers in a crash at Waihola last year is a “disgraceful” human being, a grieving mother says.

The 17-year-old earlier pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing the deaths of Charlene Hong Hue Phuong and Fay Lesley Leota, and two counts of dangerous driving causing injury following a crash on State Highway 1 on October 23.

He appeared in the Dunedin District Court after the case was transferred from the Youth Court.

The defendant’s age coupled with the level of the charges meant he could not be sentenced to jail or home detention. His name has been suppressed for a week.

Judge Michael Turner sentenced the defendant to six months’ community detention, two years’ judicially monitored intensive supervision, four years’ disqualified driving and two $1000 emotional harm reparation payments to those injured in the crash.

Phuong’s brother Bobby said, in his victim impact statement, the punishment was a “glorified slap on the wrist”, and he paid tribute to the woman and her array of accomplishments.

“Charlene was a bright, lovely young woman … She lit up every room she walked into,” he said.

Her aunt Jo Hastie said the devastation caused by the driver went well beyond the two victims and their eight children – 26 family members were directly touched by the tragedy, she pointed out.

Phuong’s mother Louise, in a statement, unleashed on the defendant, describing her pain as “unbearable”.

“You’re a disgraceful example of a human being. I hope it haunts you for the rest of your miserable life. You should be locked up for life,” she wrote.

“It should’ve been you who died that dreadful day.”

Phuong’s 10-year-old son not only had to deal with his grief but also his memories of the horrific aftermath on the road.

“He continues to ask whether his mum will remember him or know who he is when he goes to heaven,” wrote the boy’s father Micah Wharerimu.

“You’ve turned a nightmare into reality for him.”

The teenage driver initially claimed he had fallen asleep at the wheel but, with his guilty pleas, accepted that was untrue.

Just three days before the incident, the teen had been discharged from previous Youth Court proceedings and specifically warned that his manner of driving could lead to a fatal crash.

Crown prosecutor Richard Smith said all interventions seemed to have failed resoundingly because of a lack of co-operation by the teen.

“Compliance to date has been appalling … he presents a risk to the community,” he said.

He struggled to see how the teen had displayed remorse and it could not be assumed a lesson had been learned from the crash, Smith said.

The crash happened after the teen, who was on a learner licence, had been travelling many hours to Dunedin when he started tailgating another car.

In a passing lane, he overtook others but remained behind the lead vehicle.

He crossed the centre line four times in an attempt to pass but was unable to do so because of traffic.

On his fifth attempt, 1km south of Waihola, with his vehicle halfway into the other lane, an oncoming car swerved to avoid a head-on collision.

The following car was unable to avoid the impact.

The resulting crash killed the two mothers and injured two others in the family, who were heading in convoy from Dunedin to Queenstown for Labour Weekend.

Phuong’s family was also sceptical about the claims of remorse offered by the defence and some had attended a restorative justice conference with the teen.

Relative Asela Moata’ane said, “[He] sat there with his arms crossed, his legs wide open, leaning back in his seat … no hint of emotion.”

Defence counsel Deborah Henderson said the teen conducted himself as best he could at the conferences, and criticisms he had not made eye contact were unfair.

“If he showed he didn’t care, that was contrary to what he was feeling,” she said.

The teen’s name suppression will stay in place for one week, on the grounds of extreme hardship to the defendant’s family.

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