Reckless driver was reported driving erratically before crash

The scene of the crash last November. Photo / Lynda van Kempen
The scene of the crash last November. Photo / Lynda van Kempen

Just over two hours before a Chinese national killed two motorcyclists, a motorist reported her "erratic" driving behaviour to police via a *555 call.

Designated Coroner Richard McElrea, of Christchurch, resumed the inquest into the deaths of Grant John Roberts, 43, of Timaru, and Dennis Michael Pederson, 54, of Tauranga in the Queenstown District Court today.

He found that Mr Roberts died as a result of cervical spine and brain injuries, while Mr Pederson died from a transection of the aorta, both on 26 November 2012, after their motorcycles collided with Kejia Zheng's rental car on State Highway 8, about 20km north of Tarras.

Forensic Crash Analyst Senior Constable Alastair Crosland, of Alexandra, said Zheng had "negligible independent driving experience" prior to the incident and "none at all" in the preceding 10 months.

Zheng obtained her Chinese driver's licence in December 2011 and within six weeks had moved to Australia to study, where she gained no driving experience.

On 24 November, Zheng flew from Sydney to Christchurch, and the next day, she hired a rental car with her Chinese licence and drove to Tekapo for the night.

Zheng was travelling south from Tekapo on 26 November and was seen driving erratically by Cheryl van Opzeeland, who called police 20 minutes later.

New Zealand Police Southern Communications Centre manager Inspector Kieren Kortegast told Mr McElrea that Ms van Opzeeland called at 11.57am describing Zheng's driving behaviour.

"The complainant informed the call-taker that the vehicle was being driven in an erratic manner; she was using all of her side of the road, she was over the centre line and then back over the white line on the left of the road, passing on double yellow lines and was seen to be slowing down and then speeding up."

Ms van Opzeeland informed police that she had pulled over near Lake Pukaki.

Insp Kortegast said despite the dispatcher initially being unable to contact the Twizel Constable, he was still on route to the area four minutes and 14 seconds after the incident was reported — faster than the required time for a "Priority One" response.

However, the office was unable to locate Zheng's vehicle, likely because she had diverted from the highway at some point.

Snr Const Crosland said a second motorist later told police she had to take evasive action south of Lake Pukaki after Zheng pulled out in front of her, however, that incident was not reported at the time.

Mr Roberts and Mr Pederson were part of a group of motorcyclists who had attended the Burt Munro event in Invercargill.

The crash occurred after Zheng lost control of the vehicle and the men were unable to take evasive action.

A pillion passenger was seriously injured and another motorcyclist received minor injuries.

Snr Const Crosland said while the men's close following distance affected the outcome, it was not the cause.

Zheng told police in a statement "the car just crashed into them".

She said the road was "not very straight" and she found her vehicle on the left-side of the road so she "moved it to the middle".

Snr Const Crosland said it was probable, given Chinese driver regulations, Zheng had never operated a right-hand drive car, had never driven before on the left side of the road and had not travelled in excess of 40km/h — the speed limit on a Chinese highway.

She was later convicted in the Alexandra District Court after admitting two charges of careless driving causing death and two of careless driving causing injury, disqualified from driving for two years and ordered to pay $10,000 in emotional-harm payments.

Mr McElrea did not issue any formal findings or make any recommendations today, but said at the outset of the hearing he would be examining the regulatory background relating to the issue of driver's licences to overseas people in New Zealand.

"I will be inviting further input from the police, through the National Police headquarters, on possible legislation changes that may assist the police in dealing with situations such as have been highlighted by this particular case."

- Otago Daily Times

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