Driver admits liability in cycle death

By Hamish McNeilly, Kay Sinclair of the Otago Daily Times

Beverley Anne Peat. Photo / Otago Daily Times
Beverley Anne Peat. Photo / Otago Daily Times

A woman who admitted causing the death of a Dunedin cyclist after opening a car door which caused him to go under a stock truck, feels "awful" about the incident.

Dr Li Hong "Chris" He, 34, was killed outside Dunedin Hospital on November 19.

Yesterday in the Dunedin District Court, Beverley Anne Peat, 67, a delivery driver, of Tapanui, admitted causing the death of Dr He - a senior lecturer at the University of Otago's Faculty of Dentistry - by the careless operation of a vehicle.

At the time of the accident Dr He, who was wearing a cycle helmet, a reflector vest and a flashing light, was cycling northwards along the designated Cumberland St cycleway at 10am.

Peat, who had earlier taken a person to the hospital, was sitting in the driver's seat of her parked car when a passenger told her an interior light was on, indicating a door may not be closed correctly.

Parked in a designated parking spot but with her vehicle protruding towards the cycle lane, she opened the driver's door without checking as Dr He was cycling past.

The door struck the handlebars and frame of his bicycle, with the impact knocking him off his bike and into the lane of traffic. He was run over by the rear wheels of a stock truck and trailer unit. In explanation to police, Peat said she had opened her door only slightly.

Peat, when approached for comment outside the court, said she felt ''bloody awful'' about Dr He's death.

''I can't argue, I just can't argue,'' she said, before declining to comment further.

However a supporter, on her behalf, acknowledged the victim and his family, saying ''our hearts go out to them''.

''It was the wrong place at the wrong time ...

''Drive up the street now, everyone parks in a worse situation. It was just the wrong place, the wrong time but it has happened. It is not the first. It won't be the last.

''Bev was just the poor one who it happened to.''

However, the supporter fired a broadside at the Dunedin City Council and the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA).

''They have a lot to do to make our roads safer,'' she said.

''There is a lot of healing that needs to take place and we will do the appropriate steps to make it good for all parties.''

Counsel Anne Stevens told the court yesterday it was Peat's first appearance in court.

Judge Michael Crosbie told Peat the way the particular charge was framed showed Parliament accepted there would be times where limited culpability, a minor lapse, by a driver, resulting in an accident, could lead to ''devastating consequences''. Courts should deal with such a charge in a way ''reflecting the low culpability attached'', he said.

He acknowledged the various references and documents provided to the court indicated Peat was an outstanding and upstanding member of her community.

He agreed with Mrs Stevens the interests of the victim's family would be ''greatly assisted'' by the restorative justice process. They had been greatly affected by the tragedy.

The judge convicted Peat and remanded her on bail for sentence next month.

NZTA southern regional director southern Jim Harland said the agency was working hard to improve road safety in Dunedin, and was working with police, local authorities and others to reduce deaths and serious injuries.

"We are also making significant investments to improve the safety of roads and roadsides in both Dunedin and throughout the Otago region. This includes working closely with [the council] on initiatives to improve cycle safety in the city. Work is being under taken to improve cycle lane safety on the state highway one-way pair through the Dunedin CBD."

A DCC spokeswoman said road safety was a key priority for the council, but "given it is a very difficult time for the families involved, the DCC wishes to make no further comment at this time".

Cycle safety advocate and Otago University researcher Prof Hank Weiss told the Otago Daily Times Peat was a "victim in all this as well".

"There is some evidence that this tragedy is leading to some real change in the community, and we do have sympathies both for the victim and the driver."

- Otago Daily Times

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