Jamie Morton

Jamie Morton is science reporter at the NZ Herald.

Fatal crash factors a 'recipe for disaster' - coroner

Aaron Gourlay. Photo / NZ Herald
Aaron Gourlay. Photo / NZ Herald

A coroner has described texting while driving and other factors behind a van crash that killed one teen passenger and injured 11 others as a "recipe for disaster".

Coroner Wallace Bain has cited a "cocktail" of dangerous factors in the lead-up to the crash that killed Rotorua teenager Jesse Howe, 17, 12km south of Rotorua on the rainy early morning of July 17, 2010.

After rounding a slight left bend, the van he was travelling in crossed the centre line, crashed into a bank on the other side of the road and rolled over, skidding to a stop in the middle of the southbound lanes.

All 12 teenagers in the car - who had been at a party in Taupo - were not wearing seatbelts and were thrown from the vehicle, landing on State Highway 5, the roadside and in a ditch.

Jesse died of his injuries in hospital, 22 days after the crash.

At an inquest in Rotorua this morning, the attending police officer, constable Russell Lowe, listed a range of factors that contributed to the crash.

Driver Aaron Gourlay was considered inexperienced, was suffering from tiredness and was also texting for a total 13 minutes of the journey - his last text was sent minutes before the accident.

The poor road conditions and the speed the vehicle was travelling at were also factors, as was a worn and poorly fitted tyre, despite a warrant of fitness that was issued just two days before the crash.

Gourlay was later sentenced to six months' home detention on charges relating to both the fatal crash and a second crash a few months after while his licence was suspended.

At the time, Jesse's described the sentence as an "insult", and had been disgusted at joking comments he made about the crash on Facebook.

Though it could not be conclusively proven that Gourlay was texting at the time of the crash, Coroner Bain, who has reserved his findings, drew on the factor as a concern, producing a recent news article on texting and driving.

He said any one of the factors in the crash could have resulted in a "very bad accident".

Jesse's family declined to comment when approached about Gourlay's texting.

- NZ Herald

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