The Ruatoki truck driver who rammed the back of a school bus injuring 35 children has pleaded guilty to all charges.
Joe Nika Morehu, 42, appeared before Judge Robert Wolff in the Whakatane District Court today.
He was originally facing 16 charges of dangerous driving causing injury, which applied to the school children who were the most seriously injured in the crash. This was amended to one representative charge of careless driving causing injury to the 16 bus passengers.
Morehu also faces charges relating to the crash of driving a heavy vehicle for too long without a break and omitting details from a log book.
He also pleaded guilty to a drink driving charge from a separate incident in December, where he lost control of his vehicle and crashed into the front fence of a kohanga reo, then hit a concrete power pole, shearing it off at ground level before hitting a parked tractor and causing extensive damage.
Police prosecutor Caoin Macey said that at about 3.30pm on September 5 last year, Morehu was driving an empty logging truck south on Reid Rd between Taneatua and Ruatoki in Bay of Plenty.
"The weather was fine and the traffic was light. The driver was heading home after starting work at 4am.
"Also travelling south on Reid Rd at this time was a school bus containing 47 school children between the ages of five and 17. The bus was pulling left to drop off a high school student and was travelling approximately 20km/h. It was hit from the left from behind by the logging truck . . . There was no evidence the driver had swerved or braked heavily prior to impact.''
Mr Macey said the impact shunted the school bus 80 metres off the road and through a fence and was damaged extensively.
A total of 35 children were treated at Whakatane Hospital, with a 6 and 8-year-old were transferred to Rotorua Hospital. The 8-year-old was later taken to Starship Children's Hospital with serious injuries.
Mr Macey said a blood sample taken at the time of the crash showed no alcohol in Morehu's system, although there were traces of cannabis.
After entering guilty pleas to all four charges, Morehu's lawyer Miharo Armstrong asked Judge Wolff for his sentence to be deferred until July 4 for restorative justice to take place between Morehu and the victims of the crash.
"He is a member of the Ruatoki community and there are issues that would be preferable to be addressed within the community. Restorative justice would not only be a good process for the victims and their families but it would also be relevant to this court in considering a sentence.''
Judge Wolff said although the offending was serious, a sentence of imprisonment for Morehu would be unlikely as this was his first offence.
"The excess breath alcohol charge which occurred after being involved in this incident could be an underlying issue which could be addressed by intensive supervision.''
Morehu was bailed until his next court appearance in July with conditions to attend restorative justice and community probation when directed, and not to drive a motor vehicle.By Sonya Bateson of The Daily Post