Teen drink-driver ignored mates, killed

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Coroner Brandt Shortland. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Coroner Brandt Shortland. Photo / Brett Phibbs

A coroner is warning young people of the dangers of binge-drinking, drugs and driving after a 17-year-old died while almost nine times over the legal alcohol limit.

Northland coroner Brandt Shortland made the comments in his findings into the death of Peter John Chaplin, who died in a car crash on Whangarei Heads Rd on the morning of April 10, 2009, not far from his home.

Mr Shortland found that Mr Chaplin died from severe head injuries. He had a blood alcohol level of 267 milligrams of alcohol per litre of blood, almost nine times the then 30ml limit for drivers aged under 20 and more than three times the adult limit - the limit for drivers aged under 20 now is zero - and he had been smoking cannabis.

Mr Shortland passed on his condolences over the tragic death to the Chaplin family.

"I also take this opportunity to remind Peter's associates and other young people who make decisions to engage in binge-drinking, and then drive, to be mindful of possible outcomes that may impact on people's lives for a long time," he said.

Mr Chaplin had ignored friends who told him not to drive that morning. They couldn't get him to stay at the house and sleep off his intoxication.

"The combination of intoxication and fatigue had seriously impaired Peter Chaplin's judgment to firstly drive in that condition and his ability to handle his vehicle on the road," Mr Shortland said.

"In one sense, this death is an unnecessary tragedy for the family and friends of Peter Chaplin. In another sense, it's fortuitous that no other persons were affected by the crash.

"And the familiar message remains that if you drink alcohol and consume illicit drugs, then drive, you place your life, if not others, at serious risk."

The inquest heard that Mr Chaplin and friends had been drinking to excess and smoking cannabis at a home in nearby McLeod Bay the evening before the crash.

Early next morning, Mr Chaplin became upset that he could not find his tobacco and wanted to go home, so the others in the group offered to go back to his ute to look for it.

When they couldn't find it, Mr Chaplin got into his ute and started the engine, causing concern among the others because of his level of intoxication.

He then tried to drive away, so one of his associates tried to get him out of the car and take his keys, which led to Mr Chaplin punching the man.

Mr Chaplin's family were asked to comment on the coroner's findings, but were unavailable to do so.

- APN

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