When a fully-laden cattle truck rolled after speeding around a Topuni bend, it crushed the car of a 24-year-old volunteer firefighter. Rachelle Meijer was on her way home to Whangarei from a football game. That day, she was sentenced to a life of severe physical pain. Yesterday, the truck driver was sentenced to 200 hours community service. Kristin Edge reports.
Rachelle Meijer was a talented soccer player and volunteer firefighter on her way home from a football competition when a few moments' carelessness by a truck driver shattered her body and life forever.
Yesterday Ms Meijer, a 24-year-old engineer at Refining NZ was in court and spoke about the tragic consequences of the crash involving a fully-laden cattle truck driven by Ruautu Daniela on October 7 near Topuni.
Daniela pleaded guilty to a charge of careless driving and was sentenced to 200 hours community service, ordered to pay emotional reparation of $9,000 and disqualified from driving for 12 months.
Ms Meijer described how the right side of her body had been crushed leaving her with a broken arm, leg, ankle, jaw and eye socket. She lost the sight in her right eye and explained how difficult it had been to adjust to an artificial eye. She spoke of living with a pain factor of seven out of 10 every day. Months later she still walks with a limp, has a brain injury and significant scarring on her body.
"My life was all about sports, firefighting and my job. Now all these things have changed," she told the Advocate after the sentencing.
"I'm paying the price for his stuff up and I'll be paying for the rest of my life."
The court heard Daniela, 49, of Mangonui, was driving south with a truck and trailer unit loaded with 42 cattle beasts when he negotiated a moderate left hand bend with an advisory speed of 75km/h. Police said a GPS tracker showed he was travelling at 97.5km/h going into the corner before slowing down to about 88km/h.
Daniela could feel the trailer moving, possibly from the stock on board, and tried to correct it.
The trailer then rolled and fell into the northbound lane. The weight of the trailer pulled the truck unit over as well. At the same time Ms Meijer was heading north and was hit slightly to the right of head-on and crushed between the two trailers.
The truck and trailer units and the car skidded for 75m before stopping.
Lawyer Ken Bailey said Daniela had shown an error of judgement and was truly remorseful. He had previously driven a stock truck but was more experienced at driving logging trucks.
Police prosecutor Glenn Lane said Daniela had two previous convictions for careless driving and in 2012 was charged again after a logging truck he was driving went off the road into a ditch but was convicted and discharged.
Judge Murray Hunt said Daniela had put himself and other road users at risk by not familiarising himself with that specific truck and trailer unit before commencing his journey.
"That risk came home to roost in the most tragic way. It was your professional responsibility before you got in that truck to understand the operation and parameters of that unit."
Daniela's previous driving convictions disclosed a trend for lack of care, he said.
Ms Meijer said she was satisfied with the sentence but had hoped for a longer period of disqualification.