John Weekes

John Weekes is an NZME. News Service reporter based in Wellington.

Driver's Ducati crash guilt

Family waiting to be told about restorative justice meeting

Chris Heilbronn's death in March devastated his family and colleagues.
Chris Heilbronn's death in March devastated his family and colleagues.

A woman has admitted causing the death of popular Auckland business leader Chris Heilbronn in a road smash.

Lesley Southwick, 52, has been charged.
Lesley Southwick, 52, has been charged.

Heilbronn's death in March — he was riding his Ducati motorcycle in Omaha at the time of the crash — devastated his family and the colleagues he'd worked with over the decades at accountancy firms BDO, Deloitte and Kensington Swan.

Four and a half months later, 52-year-old educator and company director Lesley Southwick has been charged.

Southwick, of Epsom, appeared in North Shore District Court on Monday. She pleaded guilty to careless driving causing death and will be sentenced in October. In the meantime, the case has been referred to a restorative justice co-ordinator.

Heilbronn's wife Jeanette was surprised she hadn't heard about the restorative justice suggestion sooner. "It would be nice to be kept in the loop a little more," she said. Yet she did not think Southwick should go to jail.

"I'm sure she's not enjoying the process," Heilbronn said. "I imagine she wakes up seeing that accident happen before her eyes."

An Auckland restorative justice co-ordinator said he only received case notes from the court on Friday and because of the case's tragic circumstances, it was inappropriate to rush the issue. It could take days or weeks for victims to be told of restorative justice proposals, depending on the speed of court bureaucracy and how accessible a victim's contact details were.

He said Auckland District Court currently had to deal with 232 restorative justice cases, and North Shore had 64.

Southwick directed queries to her lawyer Steve Cullen, who said a restorative justice co-ordinator would approach the Heilbronns.

"We offered. We asked if it could be explored," Cullen said. He said Southwick wanted to communicate her condolences to the Heilbronns shortly after the crash but those were rebuffed, which was "understandable in the circumstances of a recent bereavement".

Cullen said restorative justice was a "deeply therapeutic" approach appropriate to propose in this case. "It can be incredibly powerful for all the people involved, and hugely of benefit to victims." He said Southwick was a "lovely lady" and an "absolutely archetypal New Zealand mother, wife and citizen caught up in extraordinarily sad circumstances".

Heilbronn was riding a Ducati motorbike in Omaha in March when he collided with Southwick's turning vehicle.

Cullen said Southwick did not see Heilbronn or his motorcycle.

- Herald on Sunday

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