A Hastings Council tractor driver has been sentenced to six months home detention for causing the death a 4-year-old boy in a horrific mowing accident last year.
The man in his 70s, who has interim name suppression until Monday, entered a guilty plea in Napier District Court in May to driving a motor vehicle dangerously, causing the death of Uetaha Dahtanian Ransfield-Wanoa.
He was given six months home detention, 100 hours community work, disqualified from driving for three years and $5000 reparation.
The tragedy occurred at Kirkpatrick Park in Hastings on October 8, 2013, where witnesses said Uetaha was killed when he was run over by the tractor-mower. Police said at the time of the incident the toddler was believed to have been at the Camberley park with older cousins.
Uetaha's family affectionately called him "Bubbies" and described the little boy as a "bubbly, cheeky" toddler. He was looking forward to starting at Kura Kaupapa o Heretaunga School in Hastings.
"He was a star pupil at Kohanga Reo o Heretaunga, which he attended, and was a very busy young fella who loved his family. He also had a great love of spiders and was never happier than when he was doing back flips off his bed or anywhere else," the family said after the tragedy.
"Uetaha had an amazing love of dinosaurs and regularly slept with a toy one under his pillow. He was a boy with a mischievous grin who was loved by everyone."
The elderly driver has been with the council for 13 years and was a senior driver, but has not mowed council land since the incident.
He continued to be employed by the council throughout the court case, while performing other duties, but retired on June 6.
A friend of the 72-year-old said after the man was charged on January 15, this year: "It's really horrible, that man has gone through enough ... anyone who has gone through what he has, seen what he saw, would have already had a really rough time."
Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule arrived at Kirkpatrick Park shortly after the death and said at the time: "It's an absolute tragedy. A mum and dad's son has been taken away from them.''
"Obviously this is the worst possible thing that could ever happen to a family and the parents of the young boy.''
He told media shortly after that the council tractor driver was "very, very shaken up''.
"It's a tragedy for the boy, his family, the driver, the driver's family and council staff," he said. "It's a residential playground and it's in the middle of the school holidays - it's just an absolute tragedy.''
Hastings District Council is also being prosecuted over the death by the Government's workplace safety agency, WorkSafe New Zealand.
The charge relates to Section 15 of the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992, under which employers need to take all practicable steps to ensure that no action or inaction of any employee while at work harms any other person, and carries a maximum penalty of a $250,000 fine.
The driver lodged an application for permanent name and image suppression, however Jonathan Down gave him name suppression until Monday and granted his application to have his image permanently suppressed.
Judge Down said the publication of the driver's image would, however, cause him extreme hardship and endanger his safety.
He said two doctors had diagnosed the elderly man with a major depressive episode and post traumatic stress disorder following the incident, and the medical professionals pleaded with the court for permanent name and image suppression.
He added, the driver had lost his young son in an equally tragic event some years ago and that the "horrific" and incredible sad incident had "brought much of it back".
The family of "bubbles" wished the driver's name to be in the public domain, as their "loved one" has.
Uetaha's mother read an emotional impact statement to the court and described "her main main" and eldest child.
"He was my son and to my brothers and sisters he was their son too because they do not have sons of their own."
She said "bubbies" sister now has a "big hole in her heart" and their house is quiet without him.
"Christmas was a very sad day for us."
"I just feel so lost ... I didn't get to see him at school."
She said she was angry that there had been no justice for her sons death, nearly nine months later.
Several family members in the public gallery were wearing t-shirts with Uetaha's face printed on them.
A letter of regret from the driver was read to the court by his lawyer, and said: "words can not say how sorry I am for this terrible accident that we will have to live with for the rest of our lives."
Not a day goes by that he doesn't think about the 4-year-old and he was sorry to have "robbed" his family's joy of seeing him go to school.
"I would do anything to change it."
He said his heart was filled with deep regret and he could understand the pain after also losing his son at a young age.
"I can only ask that one day you can look into your hearts to forgive me, but I totally understand if you do not."
The driver's lawyer said his client suffers daily flashbacks that feel like he relives the incident over and over again.
Judge Jonathan Down said on the day of the tragedy three children were chasing the driver's mower, aged 10, 8 and 4, on a bike and on foot.
"You stopped turned around to them, called out to them to stop, tooted your horn and waved and tried to shout them off but despite your best efforts they continued to chase the mower."
He said Uetaha sat down on a freshly mowed patch of grass before standing up and running on an angle towards the mower.
"You told police you believed he was running towards the basketball court."
Judge Down said a witness told police Uetaha was about 35m-40m away from the mower when he started running and eventually sidestepped towards the mower.
He said the little boy tried to move out of the way "but by then it was too late".
He said CCTV footage shows no signs that the mower was slowing down when it ran over the Uetaha.
He said the driver, who is suffering from genuine shock and remorse, should have stopped he mower when the saw the 4-year-old run towards him.
Judge Down said the police serious crash unit noted that the children were unsupervised by an adult and that the driver came across a "hazard of children".
Hastings District Council acting chief executive John O'Shaughnessy said the council accepted the decision of the court.
"Our thoughts and deepest sympathies continue to go to the family of Uetaha, as they struggle to cope with their loss. We also think of the driver and his family, for whom the accident has been tragic and life-changing."
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