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Trial for Tesla driver after death of young Auckland lawyer Shubham Kaur

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The driver involved in a fatal crash told first responders, “she’s dead, she’s dead”, referring to his passenger after allegedly crashing into a rural ditch and power pole, before his Tesla caught fire.

But just how the crash happened, and what caused it, remains at the centre of a judge-alone trial in the Huntly District Court involving driver, and Auckland man, Saurbh Sharma.

Sharma is defending a charge of careless driving causing the death of 22-year-old Auckland lawyer Shubham Kaur on Dawson Rd, Taupiri, on the afternoon of January 4, 2022.

Locals first to the scene told Judge Glen Marshall how they saw Sharma’s Tesla Model 3 upside down in long grass and shrubbery, nestled next to a hedge as crackling power lines dangled above and around the car.

Smoke, and then flames, would soon erupt around the car, and Dawson Rd, Taupiri, residents, first to the scene, told Sharma to immediately get out of the car while being mindful of the dangling, live power lines.

A distraught and dazed Sharma was also seen by witnesses, covered in Kaur’s blood, pacing up and down the road, as they all waited for emergency services to arrive, the court heard.

Auckland lawyer Shubham Kaur was killed in the crash.
Auckland lawyer Shubham Kaur was killed in the crash.

Many of Kaur’s family, including her parents and brother, are also in court listening to the evidence which will continue tomorrow.

After mapping the scene, Waikato police serious crash unit Sergeant Steven Jones found several fresh gauge marks on the incline of the “dip” in the road, followed by other tyre marks, or skid marks.

The marks, Jones told the court, showed the Tesla scraping the incline of the dip before it veers slightly into the opposite lane, then arching back into the eastbound lane.

The car continued going in the same anti-clockwise direction into what Jones described as “somewhat of a broadside slide” into the grass verge and power pole.

The “dip” was a well-known feature of Dawson Rd to locals, who told the court of knowing how to drive over it, or not being bothered by it at all.

Depending on which way you travelled Dawson Rd, motorists would either go up or down the dip.

Resident Christopher Thompson was walking out on to his tanker track when he saw a huge plume of smoke “going straight up in the air.

“For a couple of seconds I thought it was the house burning down,” Thompson said before realising it was a crash.

Saurbh Sharma of Auckland outside the Huntly District Court where he is facing charges of careless driving causing death. Photot / Belinda Feek
Saurbh Sharma of Auckland outside the Huntly District Court where he is facing charges of careless driving causing death. Photot / Belinda Feek

Questioned by police prosecutor Nicola Morrison about that dip in the road, Thompson said he’d travelled it “hundreds of thousands” of times and had never lost control – but he also knew that it was there.

“Every time [I drove over it] it would give me a reminder that it was there.”

The dip had since been filled in by road workers so that there was now “no dip at all”, he said.

Resident Amy Reeves, partner Damian Whitley, and their children were using the hot afternoon to swim in their pool when they heard the sound of a car scraping as it went over the dip “and then screeching of tyres as the car skidded and then the crash”.

Reeves said she looked at Whitley and knew “that it was a big one”.

“I said, ‘you go’ and he just took off,” she told the court.

Reeves also got near the vehicle, which had a large hole in the side of it, and spotted Sharma.

“He was moving around quite a bit around the car … we told him to stay in it because the lines were down.

“He just kept going from the front to the back.”

She asked how he was and “he kept saying, ‘she’s dead, she’s dead’”.

The Tesla didn’t look like a car at all as both ends were pushed in.

“I then realised it was upside down.”

Smoke, then flames appeared and they both urged Sharma to get out of the car quickly, the court heard.

It was then she noticed he was covered in his blood, that wasn’t his own.

Whitley told the court he heard a car going down the road “reasonably fast” before hearing a “thud” and then a screeching of tyres.

Asked by Sharma’s counsel, Shafraz Khan, what he told police that evening, Whitley said Sharma’s words were “she’s still in the car, she’s dead”.

Resident and nurse Marion Lock said she’d travelled Dawson Rd “many times” and when driving at the 100km/h speed limit it was “a bit bouncy but it’s fine”.

Police began arriving, along with scene controller Sergeant Leo Belay.

He was told there was another passenger missing and carried out a search.

Unsuccessful, he was then told by Sharma that he had dragged Kaur from the car and left her between the vehicle and the roadside; an area already searched and where smoke and flames were building up.

“He said he was in a distressed state … [Sharma] said ‘she was dead’.”

He then did another search, with help from firefighters, but by now the smoke was thick and heavy.

Again not finding anyone, he believed she was still trapped in the car “and given the nature of the flames, likely deceased”.

The Tesla’s burning battery was also of concern to emergency services at the time and saw firefighters use breathing apparatus to battle the blaze.

Jones told the court that a Fire and Emergency NZ investigator had since done a forensic investigation on the car’s battery and confirmed it was not the source of the fire.

The trial continues.

Belinda Feek is an Open Justice reporter based in Waikato. She has worked at NZME for eight years and been a journalist for 19.

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