Family 'blown apart' by unborn baby's death

By Kerry Hebberley

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A driver has been sentenced after this crash that claimed the life of an unborn baby in Waipukurau. Photo / File
A driver has been sentenced after this crash that claimed the life of an unborn baby in Waipukurau. Photo / File

A crash this year which caused the death of an unborn child and multiple injuries to others has been described as a "complete tragedy" by a judge.

In Waipukurau District Court yesterday, Michael Graham Irwin, 33, was sentenced on two charges of careless driving relating to the mid-afternoon crash in March. His car hit a tree and burst into flames after leaving a bend on Middleton Rd, south of Waipukurau.

The passengers in the car were his brother Neil Irwin, and his brother's partner Monique Auckram-Grant, who was eight months pregnant. Irwin managed to escape the car and haul his passengers from the vehicle.

In summing up yesterday, Judge Geoff Rea said Irwin had returned from Australia, bought a Holden HSV Clubsport vehicle, and on March 18 drove to his brother's place to show him the new vehicle.

That afternoon, Irwin, his brother and his brother's partner decided to go for a ride near Waipukurau, Judge Rea said.

"You were driving, your brother was in the front seat, and your sister-in-law in the back. As you drove on Middleton Rd, you failed to negotiate a moderate right-hand bend, hit loose metal, the vehicle skidded across grass and collided head-on with a tree, and then caught fire.

"I have to assume you were operating the vehicle legally before the accident, and allegedly you helped the other two out of the vehicle before it was fully in flames."

He said all three in the vehicle were injured, with Irwin's brother and partner in hospital for several weeks. "You admitted to the police that you had been driving and that you were not speeding. You said you had not driven that road and were still getting used to the car."

Defence counsel Cliff Church said Irwin had tried to ensure the victims were not in the vehicle before it exploded, and stayed with them until emergency services arrived.

"He takes full responsibility. The situation has caused immense stress in the family, which has been blown apart.

"My client has suffered immensely over the loss of the unborn child and has had to have counselling, and the rest of the family are also suffering." Mr Church said Irwin was wearing a seatbelt, had not consumed alcohol, assisted the victims and entered a very early guilty plea.

"He has tried to organise restorative justice, which was declined by the victims."

Judge Rea said it was a "complete tragedy" with the loss of the child and all three being badly injured.

"These sorts of cases are the most difficult for courts to deal with. In sentencing, we can only try and arrive at a result that's fair as far as the community is concerned.

"We cannot repair the damage but, once sentencing is completed, hopefully things can move on."

He ordered Irwin to pay $2000 each in emotional harm reparation to the complainants by December 31 this year.

He also disqualified Irwin from driving or obtaining a driver's licence for one year, starting yesterday.

Meanwhile, police say a family of three involved in a head-on collision with a truck in Pakipaki were lucky they were travelling at a reduced speed limit of 80km/h in a Safer Speed Zone.

A 1-year-old baby, 27-year-old mother and 8-year-old girl were lucky to escape death or serious injury after their car was in a head-on collision with a tallow truck at the Pakipaki Rd and State Highway 2 intersection on Thursday last week.

The woman's 8-year-old daughter was in the front passenger seat and the 1-year-old in a carseat in the back.

Senior Sergeant Greg Brown said he backed the reduced 80km/h zone for the area.

"It makes sense. I put safety in front of minor inconvenience on every occasion," Mr Brown said.

"Yes, it was lucky that all occupants of the vehicle were restrained, and in particular it shows the value of a proper child restraint for infants and under-8s.

"It also highlighted the issue around speed, and how tragic the consequences could be."

He said the intersection was of concern, and that the NZTA and Hastings District Council had been working on plans to improve safety there.

"While the work on the longer-term fix (likely to be a roundabout) is worked through, earlier this year they both agreed to reduce the speed to an 80km/h zone to reduce the significant risk of a T-bone crash at 100km/h." He said if the woman had been travelling at 100km/h, her 8-year-old child in the front left passenger seat might not have survived the crash.

"This is exactly the point we have been asking people to consider during the public consultation phase of the Safer Speed Zone."

The mother remains in a stable condition in hospital while her baby and older daughter have been discharged.

Public consultation on the speed limits continues until September 22.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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