Amelia Wade is a court reporter for the New Zealand Herald

Death of matriarch who never recovered from horrific car crash

Margaret de Vries died from injuries suffered when the car she was travelling in was hit by Carl Brown's vehicle. Photo / Supplied
Margaret de Vries died from injuries suffered when the car she was travelling in was hit by Carl Brown's vehicle. Photo / Supplied

A driver's moment of inattention had traumatic and tragic consequences for a Dutch family looking to make New Zealand their new home.

One year and 15 days ago Jeroen and Rivka Hondema touched down in Auckland with their three young sons, excited about experiencing a new culture in a country they would call home. Mrs Hondema's mother, Margaret de Vries, had joined them to get settled.

One year and 10 days ago their dreams were torn apart.

It was Friday, May 8, 2015, just after midday and the family were driving along Whitford Rd into Howick for lunch after looking for a potential new home in Beachlands.

Margaret de Vries and Philip de Vries in happier times. Photo / Supplied
Margaret de Vries and Philip de Vries in happier times. Photo / Supplied

They were about 4km away. Mrs Hondema was driving, her husband was next to her and in the back of the eight-seater rental van was Mrs de Vries and the boys, Micha, 5, Aram, 4, and Joas, 2.

"All of a sudden there was this ute and I couldn't do anything. He was just there. I didn't see him coming and when I saw him, it was already too late," Mrs Hondema told the Herald.

Carl Brown, a tradesman, was on his way to a job. At 12.27pm he sent a text. At 12.32pm he called an ambulance.

He told police he was aware of an indicator on a car ahead of him -- the vehicle was waiting for Mrs Hondema's car to pass so it could turn right.

I didn't see him coming and when I saw him, it was already too late.
Rivka Hondema

"I braked, slid straight into the back of that car. Slid like I was on ice. Bounced off that car and into the oncoming traffic," Brown told police as stated in the summary of facts.

It took Mrs Hondema a moment to realise what had happened as the car crumpled around her.

"You catch your breath and first of all you think, 'Did this really happen?' and then the immediate realisation that it did. I looked to my left and I saw my husband's response was exactly the same then I looked over my shoulder and heard my three boys crying. The first thing I thought was that they're alive if they're crying. Then I saw my mum - she was so badly injured."

Mrs de Vries was critically hurt with significant abdominal injuries, Mrs Hondema had a broken ankle and wrist, Micha, Aram and Joas had broken collarbones with the youngest also suffering a shattered elbow.

Mr de Vries, at home in the Netherlands, was woken at 5am by a call from his daughter who told him his wife, her mother, was in a critical condition. He and his other daughter, Tamara, were on a plane the next day and landed in Auckland on May 10 at 11.30pm.

The first thing I thought was that they're alive if they're crying. Then I saw my mum - she was so badly injured.
Rivka Hondema

For the next 104 days, the family was by her side in hospital. There was hope and despite numerous infections, fevers and 25 surgeries, Mrs de Vries regained consciousness and her old generosity.

She'd recently developed a passion for chocolate making, so told her husband to seek out some of the city's finest to give to the hospital staff to thank them for their kindness.

At Brown's sentencing yesterday, Mr de Vries, who flew back to New Zealand with Mrs Hondema for the court appearance, read a victim impact statement.

"Her body was broken but her mind was not and she was determined to fight and at first it seemed that she was going to recover ... Every improvement in her condition was welcomed, every setback caused anxiety and stress."

As Mrs de Vries battled to survive and her family stood by unable to do anything but support and comfort her, they celebrated two important dates - Mr de Vries' 65th birthday and their 40th wedding anniversary.

"But instead of a party with friends, we decorated her room in the critical care department," he said in his statement.

When it became apparent she wouldn't make it, the family had to make the tough decision to stop treatment. Her funeral, which more than 200 people attended, was held in the Netherlands on September 4 - the day they had planned to celebrate Mr Vries' retirement.

"Not knowing whether she was ever going to play music again, play golf, to see her grandchildren grow up to perform her daily activities. The realisation that she was not going to recover came as a shock. The decision to stop treatment was inevitable but it still hurts."

After pleading guilty to careless driving causing death and three counts of careless driving causing injury at an earlier hearing, Brown was yesterday sentenced at the Manukau District Court.

He received six weeks community detention, 200 hours of community service, 18 months disqualification from driving and was ordered to pay $12,000 to his victims - $40 a week at a time.

They've lost their mother, their grandmother and a wife. A family has lost a matriarch.
Judge Francis Eivers

Judge Francis Eivers said she took into account the fact Brown shares custody of his young son, has a full-time job, a mortgage, had entered a guilty plea early and that he had shown remorse.

However, his careless driving had serious consequences which the court needed to address.

"The result of the accident has been hugely traumatic and tragic for this family. They've lost their mother, their grandmother and a wife. A family has lost a matriarch."

The road was semi-rural with many driveways, it had been raining so the tarseal was slippery and Judge Eivers said although Brown wasn't texting at the time of the crash, it was contextual.

Carl Brown pleaded guilty to careless driving causing death. Photo / Supplied
Carl Brown pleaded guilty to careless driving causing death. Photo / Supplied

Brown was also in breach of his license condition as an earlier sentence for careless driving stipulated that until July 10, 2015, he could only be behind the wheel if he was with a fully licensed driver.

Afterwards, Brown told the Herald: "I'm just really sorry for the family about what happened but I have nothing to add."

And outside court, Mr de Vries and Mrs Hondema said they were pleased with the sentence and thankful the process was over. And although New Zealand was the scene of the worst time of the lives, they both wanted to thank Kiwis for their unprompted kindness and hospitality.

During their ordeal, a neighbour cooked them three days' worth of food and when a bus driver spotted Mrs Hondema's crutches, he insisted he drop them right at the door of their hotel.

Mr de Vries dressed for court yesterday in a suit, complete with a Tui pin fastened to his lapel and a tie covered in silver ferns. Mrs Hondema wore a silver feather around her neck.

"We'll forever be connected to this country."

- NZ Herald

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