James Ihaka

James Ihaka is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

Driver jailed for fatal Christmas crash

Hetaraka Reihana has been jailed for seven years and six months over a crash that killed two young girls. Photo / Bay of Plenty Times
Hetaraka Reihana has been jailed for seven years and six months over a crash that killed two young girls. Photo / Bay of Plenty Times

The driver of a vehicle that crashed near Tauranga on Christmas Day 2011 killing two children has been sentenced to seven years and six months in prison.

Hetaraka Hikurangi Reihana appeared at the Hamilton High Court this morning having earlier pleaded guilty to two charges of manslaughter for the deaths of his cousins Brooklyn and Merepeka Morehu-Clark.

The two sisters were thrown from the car when he collided with an oncoming vehicle at a speed later described as "grossly excessive".

The 21-year-old had earlier told his whanau in a restorative justice meeting that his mistake would stay with him forever.

He read a letter to his cousin's mother and their family in which he begged for their forgiveness.

"It's me who has to answer to god and accept responsibility, I swear I wished this had never happened. All I can is I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry that I chose to drink then drive."

"I'm sorry my actions caused my judgement to be impaired and I'm sorry my loss of control ended up to you losing your two beautiful daughters.I will never forget that day it will be with me for the rest of my life."

Reihana's lawyer Panama Le'au'anae said his client's fateful decision turned his whanau's Christmas celebrations into a complete and absolute tragedy.

He said Reihana had accepted he would serve a lengthy prison sentence.

Before passing sentence, Justice Murray Gilbert said Reihana's conduct on the day of the accident was premeditated.

He had driven "at a grossly excessive speed and in an extremely dangerous manner".

Reihana's learner's licence had been suspended, he had failed to ensure his passengers - including his two year old daughter who sat under a lap belt with another passenger in the front seat - he disregarded pleas for him to slow down and he had caused two deaths.

He also drove with a blood alcohol level that was more than twice the legal limit.
Justice Gilbert said it was inevitable that Reihana would have been convicted and he only entered a guilty plea when it was clear it was the only outcome.

"It was an extremely belated guilty plea and belated acceptance of responsibility for what you have done," said Justice Gilbert.

"I must denounce your conduct and deter others from similar offending."

Reihana will serve at least three years and six months in prison before he can be considered for parole.

His mother Sara said the family were also trying to move on. The mother of the two sisters killed in the accident had forgiven Reihana but still blamed herself.

Mrs Reihana said the family were heading to Ahipara for the unveiling of Heataraka's son Tauwhetu, who would have turned three earlier this week but died of cot death when he was just 12 days old.

- NZ Herald

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