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Coroner’s findings on Olivia Keightley-Trigg crash death in Taranaki released

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Olivia Keightley-Trigg, 18, died in a head-on crash in August 2018.

The mother of a teen killed by a dangerous driver is extremely disappointed it has taken more than five years for a coroner to release the findings on her daughter’s death, saying the hold-up had left her “on edge”.

Olivia Keightley-Trigg, 18, died on August 28, 2018, after a ute being driven by Kevin Ronald Bishell ploughed into her vehicle head-on.

Now, five years and six months later, a coroner has confirmed her death was accidental and was caused by multiple injuries inflicted in a motor vehicle crash.

The Coroner stated the teen’s actions were not a causative factor in the crash and that it was entirely the fault of Bishell.

“It is extremely disappointing that it has taken five and a half years and three coroners to confirm what we already knew,” Suzie Keightley, the teen’s mother, told NZME on Friday.

“It is a long time for a family to wait.”

The Office of the Chief Coroner has acknowledged there is a backlog of cases but also said the circumstances of some deaths mean they may take longer to investigate.

Bishell was travelling at an estimated 113km/h when he attempted a passing manoeuvre while heading south on Devon Rd, near Waitara in Taranaki.

He crossed the double yellow centrelines and travelled straight into the path of the teen’s car.

She had been returning home after dropping off friends at New Plymouth Airport.

Her mother, Suzie Keightley, was driving ahead and saw the crash and her daughter’s car disappear off the road in her rear-vision mirror.

Keightley-Trigg died at the scene.

Bishell, now 43, managed to escape the vehicle he was in and identified himself to police as the driver.

He passed a roadside evidential breath test but while at hospital, where he was treated for injuries including a fractured sternum, he refused to provide an evidential blood sample.

In November 2019, he was jailed for two years and six months after pleading guilty to dangerous driving causing death and refusing a request for a blood sample.

He was also ordered to pay Keightley-Trigg’s family $1000 in reparation and was disqualified from driving for four years.

Then, less than four months after he was released from jail in September 2021, Bishell breached a release condition by testing positive for amphetamine, methamphetamine and cannabis and was sentenced to 12 months’ intensive supervision.

Kevin Bishell was jailed for the crash that killed the teen. Photo / Tara Shaskey
Kevin Bishell was jailed for the crash that killed the teen. Photo / Tara Shaskey

On Friday, Coroner Ian Telford publicly released his February 13, 2024, findings, made on the papers as opposed to through an inquest, regarding the death of Keightley-Trigg.

It is understood Coroner Telford only received the file late last year after it had previously been assigned to two other coroners.

In his findings, he extended the court’s apology, particularly to Keightley-Trigg’s family, for the time it has taken to conclude the coronial inquiry.

Suzie Keightley said the long delay meant she was “always on edge” as she anticipated the ongoing updates from Coronial Services.

“You never know when the phone call is going to come and then you’re just suddenly thrust back into the trauma of it all.”

While the hold-up had also delayed any possibility of the family finding closure, Keightley was not entirely sure that was even a possibility for them.

“Although this is technically supposed to bring us closure, any family who has endured a fatality like this knows that the grief and loss you sustain has no closure.”

Coroner Telford did not make any recommendations or comments in relation to his findings, but did state it was “obvious to say that the tragic loss of this young life was completely preventable”.

He referred to a comment made by Judge Stephen O’Driscoll, who sentenced Bishell.

“ … in the end, driving on the correct side of the road and not crossing solid double yellow lines is a matter of common sense. It is a basic and fundamental obligation on all drivers,’” the coroner wrote, quoting Judge Driscoll.

Coroner Telford said, if nothing else, Keightley-Trigg’s case illustrated the misery that can flow from failing in that obligation.

In response to questions about the delays in her case, the Office of the Chief Coroner told NZME in an emailed statement that every death reported to the coroner was different.

“Depending on the circumstances of the death, a coroner may be required to adjourn the inquiry pending the completion of another agency’s investigation or any criminal proceedings, as initially happened in this case,” the statement said.

“That there has been a backlog of cases in the Coroners Court, and the impact of this on whānau and others, is well recognised by the Court. The Coroners Amendment Act 2023 contained measures to help address this.”

Those measures included the appointment of Relief Coroners and Associate Coroners, who will help increase the court’s capacity to progress matters before it, with a particular focus on the backlog cases.

Cases may also need to be reassigned to balance coroner workloads, which was a further factor in Keightley-Trigg’s case.

Tara Shaskey joined NZME in 2022 as a news director and Open Justice reporter. She has been a reporter since 2014 and previously worked at Stuff where she covered crime and justice, arts and entertainment, and Māori issues.

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