Impact of a tragic day

By Doug Laing

1 comment

A Chinese woman who had come to Hawke's Bay as a student will spend the rest of her time in New Zealand in jail for her dangerous driving which killed a motorcyclist near Eskdale on the Napier-Taupo road four months ago.

Jieling Xiao, 27, was sentenced to 17 months' imprisonment when she appeared in an emotionally charged Napier District Court yesterday as a result of the death of Tauranga man Rhys Middleton, who was 23 when the tragedy happened just before 10am on the Sunday of February 7, when he was riding with dad Michael, brother Ryan and two others on a trip home to the Bay of Plenty after visiting friends in Hawke's Bay.

Xiao was also ordered to pay $10,000 in emotional harm reparation to the bereaved family, and was disqualified from driving for three years.

Judge Bridget Mackintosh declined an application for home detention, agreeing with Crown prosecutor Steve Manning that the risk taken by Xiao in the knowledge she was not competent to drive on New Zealand roads warranted a "statement" to deter others.

She said that if home detention had been granted, Xiao, having come to the end of her 12-month student status in New Zealand, could be deported in as little as 28 days, meaning the sentence would have had little effect.

With Xiao having pleaded guilty to a charge of dangerous driving causing death, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years' imprisonment, Judge Mackintosh took into account the defendant's co-operation, early plea, remorse and previous good character, deducting just over two years from the three years and six months starting point suggested by Mr Manning, who said that in the search for precedent he looked at three cases of foreign-driver culpability in New Zealand road crashes, although, he said, there were "many" more.

About 15 members of Mr Middleton's family were in court, holding a framed photo of the man whose death they said had changed their lives for ever.

Father Michael and brother Ryan, who along with two others were riding with Rhys Middleton on the day of the crash, both provided victim impact statements which were read to the court, Michael's being narrated by police crash investigator Senior Constable Corey Ubels.

Mother Judy Richards steeled herself, muttering she had "to do this" and read her statement, as did son Ryan and "widow" Laura Settle, whom Rhys Middleton was to marry on February 11 next year - a day when, she said, celebration would be replaced by commemoration and a visit to the cemetery.

A letter of apology and remorse from Xiao was also read to the court by Napier homestay host Graham Hodder.

A police summary read to the court when Xiao pleaded guilty on May 4 says that a week before the tragedy, Xiao and a friend bought a Toyota Rav 4 ahead of their trip to Rotorua.

On February 6, they drove towards Waimarama and despite her friend's concerns about Xiao's driving they decided to make the trip the next day.

On the day of the crash, other motorists had been alarmed by her erratic driving, drifting to the left and over the "fog" line and speed chopping and changing between 70km/h and 100km/h, before she veered to the left one last time, fully off the road, crossing the entrance to an orchard before over-correcting sharply and collecting the machine ridden by Rhys Middleton as he was attempting to overtake her.

The bike was thrown into a fence and Rhys Middleton crashed to the ground, a passing motorist stopping and rushing to his aid, and brother Ryan turning and going back to carry out CPR, as he felt his brother's last signs of life disappear.

Their father rode on ahead, oblivious to what had happened until he received "the call" when he reached Taupo an hour later.

The ride back to the scene was the longest of his life, although it was a beautiful sunny day.

"It was just like today," he said, looking from a window to the mid-winter world awaiting the family struggling to overcome the impact of the tragedy.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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