Pie factor in death says Coroner



Eating a pie while driving at speed may have been a factor in the death of a pregnant Napier motorist, a coroner has found.

Melissa Ra Mahia, 27, was killed after her Lexus car crashed into a power pole on Ruahapia Rd, Hastings, on November 10 last year.

In findings released yesterday, a police crash scene investigator said a half-eaten pie was found next to the driver's controls, with a post-mortem examination showing partially digested food in her stomach.

Ms Mahia began to lose control of the vehicle on a previous right-hand bend on the rural road. As the vehicle began to slide, she over-corrected without braking and the car rotated and slid onto a grass surface before smashing into a wooden pole. An investigator estimated the maximum speed before loss of control at between 128km/h and 147km/h.

Ms Mahia died from the injuries received in the crash, which included multiple fractures, chest and abdominal injuries.

There was no indication she was using a cellphone.

Alcohol and drugs were also ruled out as contributing factors.

Post-mortem examination results showed she was about 12 weeks pregnant.

Earlier that day, Ms Mahia had been working at the Mr Apple coolstores in Whakatu and left just before midday. A supervisor described her as "worked up and upset".

"She said there was a family emergency and she needed to leave work at lunchtime," the supervisor said.

Another motorist said he saw Ms Mahia's car "fish tailing" and following another vehicle very closely about 12.10pm on Ruahapia Rd.

Her family later said there was no such family emergency and presumed it had been simply an excuse to leave work.

She was not driving toward her home area.

Coroner Chris Devonport said she was wearing a seatbelt and he had no reason to suspect the accident was intentional.

"While there is no direct evidence in support, it is possible that Ms Mahia left her place of work and drove at speed to get somewhere and return in the short, 30-minute lunch break," Mr Devonport said.

"The evidence suggests that she may have been eating a pie while driving at speed, and that may have been a factor which contributed to her losing control of her car."

Hawke's Bay road policing Sergeant Clint Adamson said eating while driving, and any other behaviour which distracted a motorist from driving, was a risk.

"Driving is a pretty complex task and you need to be fully focused on it rather than eating a pie, or changing the car stereo, or talking on a cellphone, or whatever it may be," Mr Adamson said.

"I suppose the message is: Concentrate on the job at hand, which is driving, and be aware of what is going on around you."

A new law to prevent eating and driving was ultimately a decision for Parliament, he said.

"A lot of it is common sense. Eating and driving and making mistakes is not something that's new.

"Certainly in terms of being safe behind the wheel, all those other things should be done when you're parked up on the side of the road having a break, rather than when you are driving on the road."

- Hawkes Bay Today

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