Rob Kidd is a NZME. News Service court reporter based in Auckland.

The Big Read: The mystery death and a pink dressing gown

More than 19 months since a man died tumbling out of a moving vehicle on a suburban Auckland street, his death remains a mystery. The driver – his fiancé – is the only one who knows what happened but won’t speak to the family. NZME has been given access to court documents.
Seaview Road in Auckland. Photo / Doug Sherring
Seaview Road in Auckland. Photo / Doug Sherring

When an Auckland man threw himself out of his fiance's moving car, she drove home, had a shower and got into her pink dressing gown before returning to the scene.

By that time, he had been rushed to hospital and police were setting up a cordon on Seaview Rd, in Glenfield.

Maria*, in her 30s, drove up to the police tape and found out he had died.

"The defendant stated she was shocked by her passenger leaving the vehicle after a brief argument and was not aware of the seriousness of his injuries," officers recorded.

They breathalysed the woman, found she was over the limit. She was charged with drink-driving and failing to stop and ascertain injury after an accident.

The man she was due to marry died from his head injuries that night on December 20, 2014.

To this day, the only explanation Steven's* family has ever received was what she told police, and what friends who saw them earlier said.

The couple attended a work Christmas party before they moved on to a friend's house.

Steven wanted to spend the night there because they had both been drinking but Maria insisted they drove home because of a flat inspection the following day.

They had a "massive argument" according to friends, which saw them eventually leave with her behind the wheel despite her intoxicated state.

In the car, there was an argument.

He jumped.

She drove.

"She never said anything," the victim's mother told the Herald from her home overseas. "That's not good enough for me.

"That's the most devastating thing actually. If she had explained I would have put my arms around her . . . She was very close to our family."

Maria was interviewed in her pink dressing gown immediately after the incident by the officer in charge of the case, Detective Scott Sherer.

She told him Steven left the car abruptly and she wanted to give him time to cool off and walk home after their argument.

It was only when he did not return later that she realised something may be wrong, she said.

In April, Maria appeared before North Shore District Court where Judge Pippa Sinclair granted her permanent name suppression.

As a result, neither the victim nor his friends and family can be named.

Photo / Doug Sherring
Photo / Doug Sherring

Health issues

The court heard the woman suffered from bipolar affective disorder - a condition marked by alternating periods of elation and depression - and showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

She had spent time as an inpatient in an overseas facility, court documents revealed.

A doctor's report said her condition would deteriorate significantly if her name was published.

It was the mental illness that had seen the breakdown of Steven and Maria's relationship, his brother said.

"He had had enough of her up and downs," he said.

"Just the relationship, the way it was, he realised it wasn't what he wanted."

He said he had had spoken to Steven over the phone before the incident and he had told him he planned to leave Maria and move abroad to join his family weeks later.

Steven did not know how he was going to break up with his partner of several years.

"He felt very responsible," his brother said.

Maria's condition meant she had "episodes", he said, which turned her into a completely different person.

"It's really, really, really bad," he said.

"She becomes totally evil."

Steven's mother agreed.

"When she is unwell, she's dangerous," she said.

The Herald contacted Maria for comment but she did not respond to messages.

Her social media profiles have not been updated since the incident and still carry numerous photos of the couple together.

Family's theories

"We tried to find out what actually happened that tragic night," his mother told the court in her victim-impact statement.

"We spoke with [his] friends, who saw him shortly before the accident; we spoke to the police; we sat in the car on both sides . . . in an attempt to understand.

"We tried many times to openly speak to [the defendant] about the accident and get the information. No answer, no explanation, just a few words. Today we visited the spot where [he] was found on the street, in the middle of the night, alone. Again, more questions than answers. What really happened, it is a mystery for us. The real answer only [she] knows, and [he], who is not here to tell us."

In the last 18 months, the family's craving for the truth had subsided and made way for a steely pragmatism.

"I can have hatred towards her but that's not going to heal me, so I choose to put the things behind me," Steven's brother said.

"It's up to us now to move forward and learn how to live with this, or we drown in this."

His mother, who admitted she was initially critical of the police investigation, had also come to accept the situation.

"[She] will always be a victim and [he] will always be collateral of the accident and her illness," she said.

"Hatred will just come back to us as negative energy."

Despite being so resolute, Steven's brother, mother and father all had their own theory about what happened in the car that night.

His brother believed Maria had one of her episodes and her fiancé saw only one way out of the situation.

"When she has one she gets like an animal. It's pretty bad," he said.

"Things with her could've escalated very quickly to another level. Maybe he just wanted to get out of there.

"To me the most bizarre things is she went home, had a shower and got into her pyjamas. I mean, come on. That's not normal."

His mother thought Steven may have told Maria the relationship was over and asked her to stop so he could get out; but she had refused.

She was absolutely convinced her son was not suicidal.

"He cherished every second of life on this planet," she said.

Consequences

Detective Sherer said there was no evidence to indicate Maria's story was untrue.

The Serious Crash Unit investigation of the road scene turned up nothing suspicious and the defendant's version of events was plausible and consistent, he said.

When Maria came before the court Judge Sinclair highlighted the "extraordinary circumstances" of the case and labelled it a "very difficult sentencing exercise".

Defence lawyer Colin Mitchell argued his client should be discharged without conviction because of the barrier it would provide for her future job prospects.

A conviction could also see her mental health degenerate further, he said.

But the judge decided the seriousness of the offending was too great.

Maria was sentenced to a year of supervision, banned from driving for a year and ordered to pay Steven's family $1500.

Judge Sinclair described the mother's victim-impact statement as "heart-rending".

"The sting of the pain, anguish and endless sorrow are not only words in the dictionary. They are reality for us, in our hearts, in our minds, in our everyday lives," Steven's mother said.

"What impact has this accident had on our lives? It has left a huge abyss. I can write a book of a million words and it's not enough to describe how our lives changed for the worse since [he] left us."

She told the Herald she was determined to celebrate the time she had spent with her son rather than dwell on the mysterious circumstances of his demise.

"His laugh was very loud. A million times I had to shush him down. Now I don't know what I would give to hear it. That laugh was his personality, he was sharing the laugh with everybody."

While the family had agreed to stick together and move on, they were not protected from the overwhelming grief that came with losing a loved one in the prime of his life.

"My pain will be my pain and our pain will be our pain," she said.

* Names have been changed because of court-imposed suppression orders.

- NZ Herald

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