Driver found guilty over runaway van death

By Kiri Gillespie of the Bay of Plenty Times, Sandra Conchie -
Rescuers take Shi Jun Zhang's body away after a runaway van killed him. Photo / Sam Ackland
Rescuers take Shi Jun Zhang's body away after a runaway van killed him. Photo / Sam Ackland

The widow of a man killed by a runaway van that careered down a driveway and pinned him to the foundations of the home he was building says she can now move on with her life.

Andrew Charles Cundy, 40, of Pyes Pa was found guilty of careless operation of a motor vehicle causing death after a defended hearing before Judge Robert Wolff in Tauranga District Court yesterday.

The summary of facts detailed how Cundy parked his work van uphill at the top of a steep driveway in Bethlehem in October 2010, and applied the handbrake with an "extra click'' to ensure it held.

However, he failed to park the van in gear or turn the van's wheels away from the kerb, as recommended in the New Zealand Road Code.

About 10 or 15 minutes later the handbrake failed and the van careered down the driveway and across the road.

Shi Jun Zhang, 53, had been standing on the driveway talking to two other workers when he was caught by the vehicle and dragged underneath it.

He had been working on the foundations of his new house and died at the scene.

Cundy declined to comment last night.

David Leong, a friend of the Zhang family, said the verdict had brought some closure.

Mr Zhang's family had since moved to Auckland.

"It has been hard for them to grieve,'' Mr Leong said.

English was not the family's first language but, through Mr Leong, Mr Zhang's widow expressed relief that someone had been held accountable.

Through Mr Leong, she said: "You need to be aware that the car might roll. Such things can happen.

"It cost a person's life to learn a lesson. Hopefully no one else will need to go through this.''

The Zhangs migrated to New Zealand from China to work on property development, including the property where Mr Zhang died.

Mrs Zhang indicated she would return to Tauranga to attend Cundy's sentencing in July.

Mr Leong said the death of his friend could at least serve as a warning to other motorists to take more care when parking vehicles.

"I think people need to be aware that sometimes such a thing can be prevented if we are more careful.

Because at the end of the day the whole thing of going through the [court process] and finding out what the problem was . . . things like this don't need to happen.''

Yesterday, the court was told there was no evidence of vehicle mechanical fault.

Cundy's lawyer Rachael Adams argued her client could not have foreseen the handbrake releasing for some "unexplained or inexplicable'' reason and his driving actions that day did not meet the legal threshold test required to satisfy a criminal conviction for carelessness.

"Mr Cundy had parked in the same way in the same place for some eight weeks without incident and otherwise he had a well-maintained vehicle with no mechanical issues,'' she said.

Judge Wolff disagreed.

"I am satisfied that no reasonable prudent driver would rely on a single mechanical brake as a safeguard to prevent rollback and I'm satisfied it was careless to do so.

"The advisory note in the Road Code is sound advice and I'm satisfied a reasonable, prudent driver should follow that advice.''

Cundy will be sentenced on July 6.

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