Jamie Morton

Jamie Morton is science reporter at the NZ Herald.

Survivor keen on NZ return

Memory of Turangi crash that killed three friends last year remains lost to one victim.

Meg Theriault (second from right) with friends in Boston (from left) Emma Rosenbaum, Caroline Barnaby and Sidney Greenley-Kois is recovering from the crash. Photo / APN
Meg Theriault (second from right) with friends in Boston (from left) Emma Rosenbaum, Caroline Barnaby and Sidney Greenley-Kois is recovering from the crash. Photo / APN

A year after the Turangi crash that killed three US students, its most scarred survivor remains determined to return to thank those who saved her life.

The family of Meg Theriault have told the Herald they have been looking at airfares to New Zealand, as a coronial inquest today will revisit the Turangi van crash in which her fellow Boston University students Daniella Lekhno, Roch Jauberty and Austin Brashears died.

The 22-year-old has made a remarkable recovery, having battled to walk, speak, read and even dress herself again.

But she still remembers nothing of May 12 last year, when the minivan she had been travelling in with her friends suddenly lost control on State Highway 47, rolling three times and throwing passengers and debris on to the road.

The week she spent travelling around New Zealand before the accident, the heroic actions of local man Kevin O'Brien and his young daughter Michelle at the crash scene, and the weeks she spent in Waikato Hospital also remain a blur.

Stephen Houseman, who was driving the van, said the mini-van began shaking violently before it left the road on to a left-hand gravel shoulder. The van rolled when he over-corrected and swerved to the right.

Lekhno, 20, Jauberty, 21, and Brashears, 21, died after being thrown from the vehicle, while Kathy Moldawer, Alys McAlpine and Emily Melton were also injured, but not as badly as Ms Theriault, who was put into a coma after suffering a blood clot on her brain and a fractured skull.

Mr O'Brien, who had spent much of his life as an ambulance driver, described the scene as the most traumatic and severe he had seen.

The first memory Ms Theriault had since boarding a plane to New Zealand was in mid-July, when she was back home recovering in Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston, two months after waking from her coma in Hamilton, her father Todd Theriault said.

He said there had remained questions over the van's fitness and why it appeared to have suddenly begun shaking.

But Taupo Police Senior Sergeant Fane Troy said the vehicle had been roadworthy at the time of the crash, and police believe this shaking started when the van's tyres met the gravel.

Ms Theriault has been able to reunite with some of the other survivors, who had graduated recently. Last month her parents shared dinner with the parents of Mr Houseman, who returned home after being convicted and discharged on three counts of careless driving causing death and four counts of careless driving causing injury.

No family members of the crash victims are expected at today's inquest, but a New Zealand friend of the Brashears family is expected to attend.

"We will return at some point, and I have been doing some investigating, as far as plane fares go, but the funds just won't allow what it will cost to get back over there at the moment," Mr Theriault said. "But eventually, we will get there."

Returning to the site, he said, might help his daughter remember more - and bring about closure for the family.

"We were picked up out of our lives and thrown into someone else's," he said. "Over the year, we've been getting back to more of a normal life, as it was before the accident.

"It was a long year, and not the best year in our family's history, but I can't stress enough how lucky we are."

- NZ Herald

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