Coroner: Speed and alcohol factors in death of driver and passenger

By James Pasley

A coroner's report confirmed Vernon Lawrence-Samuels had a blood alcohol reading of 104 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood. Photo / File
A coroner's report confirmed Vernon Lawrence-Samuels had a blood alcohol reading of 104 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood. Photo / File

The driver involved in a collision that claimed his life and the life of one of his passengers was over the legal blood alcohol limit, and the vehicle was travelling in excess of the 100km/h speed limit, a coroner has found.

Coroner Brandt Shortland's report confirmed that driver Vernon Lawrence-Samuels had a blood alcohol reading of 104 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood. The legal limit at that time, for a driver over 20 years, was 80mg.

Despite these findings, Coroner Brandt said, "the evidence is silent as to what set the car in motion when it lost control".

The two people who died, Mr Lawrence-Samuels and Ryan Wikaira, both 23, were in a 1997 Honda Accord travelling south of Kaeo on State Highway 10 on May 30, 2014 when the vehicle lost control on a "known bend", clipped the rear tail of a trailer heading north and spun into the path of a Ford Courier, resulting in their deaths.

Michael Sparrow, the driver of the Ford, recalled the Honda spinning four times before coming towards his vehicle.

The Honda then spun into another vehicle behind Mr Sparrow's, which was being driven by Mr Sparrow's wife, resulting in a "T-bone" crash which killed Mr Lawrence-Samuels and Mr Wikaira instantly.

There had been light rain, it was dark, and there were no road lights.

Alongside these conditions, Mr Shortland said it was possible the road conditions had contributed to the crash. In the two weeks prior to the incident, two other crashes occurred in the same area, although they did not result in deaths.

The police could not be certain what speed the Honda was travelling at, only that it was in excess of 100km/h.

The Honda was "for all intents and purposes in a warrantable state of fitness", a VTNZ vehicle inspector had said.

Before the incident the pair who died, plus a third occupant, Rehurangi Tauroa, who survived, had been training for rugby, and had then consumed beer and a marijuana joint at the Kaeo Rugby club.

After this the young men decided to go to Kerikeri for something to eat, once a party they had planned to go to fell through. But they never made it.

"It is a tragic and unnecessary death," said Mr Shortland.

"It is most fortunate that no one else was killed or seriously injured in the crash. Particularly Mrs Sparrow and Mr Rehurangi Tauroa."

- NZ Herald

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