Mate defends Kenya crash driver

By Sandra Conchie, Genevieve Helliwell

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A "good, kind and respected man" is how a former Bethlehem College student describes David Fellows - the man now known to have been driving the minibus that crashed in Kenya, killing four people.

 


 


Reuben Simpson told the Bay of Plenty Times his former schoolmate did not deserve criticism after revealing publicly on Tuesday that he was driving the minibus - not Kenyan man Christopher Mmata, who was killed in the crash.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Bethlehem College principal Eoin Crosbie said Kenyan team leader Calvine Ominde had instructed the New Zealand group not to reveal who had been driving the minibus until they were back in New Zealand.

But Mr Ominde told TV3 he was offended by the suggestion he had played any part in a cover-up and believed Mr Mmata had been driving at the time of the crash.

"All I can remember is Chris was lying down from the driver's side.

He smiled to me and I knew he was gone. He was my friend. He was the last person I saw driving when we came out from the high school."

Mr Ominde told TV3 that while Mr Fellows, 19, told him at the time that he was responsible, he did not take much notice of the comment during the chaos that followed the crash.

"Dave came to me and he told me, 'Calvine, it's my fault,' but I didn't bother so much, I didn't know what he meant, because I knew Chris was driving."

Mr Fellows was part of a 19-strong team from Bethlehem College who were on a volunteer mission to build a new classroom block to the Ark Quest School, which has a long-standing relationship with the college.

Tauranga's Brian and Grace Johnston and former student Caitlin Dickson were also killed in the crash.

Mr Simpson was in the same year at Bethlehem College as Mr Fellows. He said his mate was "a good guy" who was only following instructions.

"I do feel sorry for him and, it's more because I know him, but he wouldn't intentionally do anything that would hurt somebody else," he said.

"From what I understand, he had been told not to say anything and he was only following those instructions.

"I absolutely do not think he deliberately intended to shift the blame. He would have been trying to do what he was told was the right thing."

Mr Simpson, who moved to Auckland to study business, said Mr Fellows would have been carrying a huge burden since the January 15 crash.

 


 


He had not spoken to Mr Fellows since the accident and when he tried to make contact via Facebook he found Mr Fellows had deleted his profile.

"I remember him as being quite mature and really easy to get along with.

"We didn't really hang out at school but he was a really nice guy," he said.

"He was a really good rugby player, and he was very down to earth and quite liked. He never got into trouble."

Mr Fellows was named in the Bay of Plenty Under-18 representative team in 2012.

Bay of Plenty Rugby Union academy manager Dean Jennings said he had seen Mr Fellows play and described him as a "motivated" young man.

Auckland lawyer Gary Gotlieb said he could understand Mr Fellows' actions following the crash.

"At the end of the day, you can understand why this young fella did what he did after taking advice from more senior people than him, and clearly it was bad advice which has only elevated a terrible disaster to another dimension."

Mr Crosbie told the Bay of Plenty Times he could not answer questions about the crash, including who knew what, what happened before and after the crash, and who made the key decision to withhold information, as these would form the basis of the board of trustees' inquiry.

He did not have a set timeframe for the inquiry to be completed.

"We expect the inquiry to take weeks rather than days and, until we know the outcome, we don't know what may or may not be made be public," Mr Crosbie said.

"That may also depend on any other ongoing investigations.

"We simply can't answer questions about the Kenyan police investigation, as the school authorities don't have information about it at this time."

 


 


Mr Crosbie said the board of trustees had employed a private investigator to assist.

Foreign Minister Murray McCully said the Government was waiting to see whether Kenyan authorities would seek the extradition of Mr Fellows under Commonwealth protocols.

"It would be a matter for the New Zealand authorities to consider when they receive a request and I wouldn't want to get ahead of them in that respect."

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said the ministry had not received a report on the crash and the Government could not intervene in the judicial system of another country.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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