Jamie Morton

Jamie Morton is science reporter at the NZ Herald.

Kenya crash: Team leader asleep during driver-swap

David Fellows had taken over the driving.
David Fellows had taken over the driving.

The group leader of a Bay of Plenty college's mission trip to Kenya was asleep when a driver-swap put a teenager behind the wheel in a minivan crash that killed four people.

Bethlehem College yesterday released the findings of its investigation of the January 15 crash in which former pupil 19-year-old Caitlin Dickson, Tauranga couple Brian and Grace Johnston, and Kenyan man Christopher Mmata died.

It was revealed that 18-year-old pupil David Fellows was driving at the time of the crash, and not Mr Mmata, as the college had earlier said.

In its report, the college maintains school leaders were informed only after Mr Fellows had returned home and told his family.

Kenyan group leader Calvin Ominde, who arrived at the scene minutes after the crash and has denied ordering a deliberate cover-up, was also "absolutely convinced" that his friend Mr Mmata was driving, board of trustees chairman Greg Hollister-Jones said yesterday.

The investigation also found Mr Mmata encouraged students to drive as part of their "Kenyan experience" and three students drove vehicles on the trip despite this having been banned two years before.

As well, the van was overloaded and some passengers were not buckled in and team leader Philip Russell was asleep in the front seat when Mr Fellows and driver Mr Mmata switched places minutes before the crash.

The investigation subcommittee said it was "of concern" that there appeared to have been a progression in "driving incidents".

"This progression demonstrates an increasing confidence by the students in the acceptability of student driving, a result of Christopher's encouragement, and a mistaken belief by some of the leaders that driving by students was acceptable."

Students would be strictly banned from driving on future trips.

Despite Mr Fellows' admission, Kenyan police had closed the matter after concluding Mr Mmata was the driver.

Mr Hollister-Jones said no disciplinary action would be taken against tour group leaders.

- NZ Herald

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