New Zealander of the Year Finalist: Emma Woods

By Jarrod Booker

Every day this week in news, business and sport we feature the finalists for the Herald New Zealander of the Year. Top honours will appear in the Weekend Herald on Saturday.

Photo / Simon Baker
Photo / Simon Baker

Her act of compassion towards her son's killer moved many of us. Some of us found her forgiveness impossible to contemplate.

But Emma Woods was simply doing what felt right for her.

In the days after her 4-year-old son, Nayan, was killed by an out-of-control teenage driver while walking along a footpath, Mrs Woods told Ash Austin, 18, she didn't want this to be the "defining moment" in his life.

Injured herself, with her other son, 6-year-old Jacob, after being hit by Austin's modified Nissan Silvia which skidded while turning on to a wet Christchurch street on May 21, Mrs Woods saw the anguish Austin was going through.

"He's young ... and he's got his whole life ahead of him. And we hope he will use it to do good things, and to be good with people. And maybe eventually to be a good father," the Christchurch mother said at the time.

"We know that at some stage with the grieving process, there will be anger. But at this stage, we're not angry. It's just a tragic accident."

When it came to Austin's court appearances, Mrs Woods was there - and there was still no sign of anger.

After Austin pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing the death of Nayan, and injury to Jacob and Mrs Woods, she told the Herald she did not want to see Austin go to jail.

"I guess he made a mistake that had pretty horrendous consequences, but that doesn't make him a bad person," she said.

"And he's done a lot since the accident to attempt to make amends or try to support us. I don't think somebody like him belongs in jail. I don't think he's going to learn anything from being in there. The mistake he made, he's not going to do it again."

When Austin was sentenced in October, the judge took into account the forgiveness from Mrs Woods and her husband, Duncan. Austin was sentenced to community detention and community work.

Sobbing outside court after trying to read a statement to the media, Austin was embraced by Mrs Woods.

"It's easy to raise voices in anger and condemn others for their mistakes," she said.

"Unfortunately, human nature means mistakes are often made."

Austin spoke of the honour of spending time with Mrs Woods and her husband and learning about Nayan. In recent times he has been helping build a memorial garden in remembrance of Nayan.

- NZ Herald

We would like to hear from you. Who do you think is a worthy New Zealander of the Year for 2010? Email us at newsdesk@nzherald.co.nz

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