Family tell of trauma of losing son Trent O'Connell in car crash near Greymouth

Nickolas McLaughlin pleaded guilty to amended charges of careless driving causing injury and careless driving causing death. Photo / File
Nickolas McLaughlin pleaded guilty to amended charges of careless driving causing injury and careless driving causing death. Photo / File

The family of a Grey Valley youth killed in a high impact car crash on the outskirts of Greymouth a year ago will live with the trauma for a lifetime, the Greymouth District Court heard yesterday.

In a profound victim impact statement read in court yesterday, the mother of Trent O'Connell - who was 17 when he died on State Highway 7 at Kaiata on October 9 last year - spoke of still hearing the words, "he's not going to make it" following the crash.

Sue Healey said being "robbed" of her son had affected every aspect of her life and that of her family and they would live with it forever.

"The first Christmas was hard. I spent money on our children but only $6 on an angel for his grave. His first next birthday - definitely someone missing that day," Ms Healey said.

Nickolas John McLaughlin, 27, a maintenance engineer now living in Christchurch, pleaded guilty to amended charges of careless driving causing injury and careless driving causing death.

For causing injury McLaughlin was disqualified from driving for 18 months, sentenced to 150 hours of community work and ordered to pay $2000 to Shane Darling, who was also in the car.

For causing death, McLaughlin was also sentenced to 150 hours of community work, disqualified for 18 months and ordered to pay $3000 to Mr O'Connell's mother.

Mr Darling suggested his reparation should also go to Mr O'Connell's family and Judge Robert Murfitt agreed.

On October 9, 2015 McLaughlin was driving a Honda car he was showing to the intended buyer, Trent O'Connell, when he crossed the centre line and into the path of an oncoming truck.

Mr O'Connell was in the front passenger seat and Mr Darling was in the rear of the car.

Police prosecutor senior constable Don Abbey said police experts had assessed McLaughlin was doing between 105km/h and 108km/h in the 80km/h zone.

The impact of the collision with the right-hand front side of the truck tore the car in two, with the passenger section torn away from the engine bay, spinning around and coming to rest across the centre line.

Mr Abbey said the truck driver tried to assist but it was immediately obvious the unconscious Mr O'Connell had suffered "high energy impact injuries" while Mr Darling was semi-conscious.

"The defendant said he knew the limit was 80km/h but thought he was doing 110km/h," Mr Abbey said.

Mr O'Connell's family had not felt able to enter into a restorative justice process with McLaughlin.

Ms Healey told the court she felt "insulted" that McLaughlin "shows no remorse" in having pleaded not guilty to initial charges, which were later withdrawn and amended.

"Our family is suffering every day from the loss you caused," she told McLaughlin.

McLaughlin's lawyer Chris Stephenson noted "incorrect charges initially" and in the formal court process there had been no not guilty plea.

"Mr McLaughlin has accepted remorsefully from the start, his part," Mr Stephenson said.

Several testimonials before the court attested to his character, that he was a hard worker and was "deeply remorseful".

Mr Stephenson noted that experts had agreed that excess speed, "though not much" over the 80km/h limit, together with the uneven road condition at the crash point, was a factor as McLaughlin came into the bend, lost control and spun out.

"Just into that zone, coming into the bend and cresting the hump ... that's apparently what has happened here. He's seen the truck at that point, braked his car too hard."

McLaughlin had just come off 19 days of shift work, which "may have impacted on his level of care," Mr Stephenson said.

In summing up, Judge Murfitt told McLaughlin "fate had it that you caused a death".

He told him to apply the lessons of what had happened so that "in some small way" what he did in life might honour the memory of Mr O'Connell.

"There is nothing I can say or do which will deal with the harm caused to Trent's mother. She will live with it forever," the judge said.

Greymouth Star

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