Man charged over Taupo power cut death

A woman on a ventilator died after a man crashed onto a power pole causing an outage on Taupo.
A woman on a ventilator died after a man crashed onto a power pole causing an outage on Taupo.

A man who crashed into a power pole, causing an outage which is alleged to have led to the death of a woman on a ventilator, has been charged under a "fall back" section of the crimes act, a legal expert says.

A 21-year-old Rotorua man has been charged with criminal nuisance after he drove into a street sign and three power poles at 3.20am on January 30 in Taupo.

Police said the crash resulted in 630 properties on Rifle Range Rd losing power.

At 8am that day, they were called to a property on the road, after Fai Deane was found unconscious and unresponsive.

The 50-year-old could not be revived. It was reported to police at the time that a power cut had caused her oxygen machine to fail.

The Rotorua man will appear in Taupo District Court tomorrow.

Under the Crimes Act, criminal nuisance constitutes anyone unlawfully acting in a way that they know could endanger the lives, safety, or health of the public.

The maximum penalty is one year in prison.

The University of Auckland's Dr Bill Hodge said criminal nuisance was something of a catch-all, or a place to file a charge which didn't quite fit anywhere else.

"It is related to the concept of nuisance, that is public nuisance, which is use of a public way in a manner which injures someone in that public use," he said.

"It derives from old common law and is a useful, occasionally, fall-back section in our Crimes Act."

Today, Detective Senior Sergeant Matt Cranshaw of Taupo Area CIB, said the charge of criminal nuisance "was identified as the most appropriate".

Hodge cited the use of the charge after a cyclist was killed during a race in 2001.

In 2003 race organiser Astrid Andersen was found guilty of criminal nuisance after Vanessa Caldwell died after a head-on collision with a car while overtaking on a blind corner.

The case against Andersen centred on whether the information to cyclists taking part in the race was clear about whether the Banks Peninsula's Summit Rd was open to other traffic for the event.

The following year the conviction was quashed in the Court of Appeal.

This is not the first time a power outage has been linked to the death of a person using an oxygen machine.

In 2007, Mangere woman Folole Muliaga died the same day a contractor to Mercury Energy cut the power to her home.

A coroner later found the 45-year-old, who was using an oxygen machine, died as a result of morbid obesity, but also that the loss of power played a part in her death.Muliaga's power was cut off because she hadn't paid her $168.40 bill.

Less than a month later, Mercury Energy introduced changes to prevent a repeat of the tragedy, including requiring customers facing power disconnection to receive a personal phone call to check whether there are medical or hardship reasons not to cut off the electricity.

The Electricity Commission, now called the Electricity Authority, also introduced voluntary guidelines - involving electricity retailers, hospitals and GPs - to identify and help protect vulnerable people from electricity disconnection.

- NZ Herald

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