Tourist crash drivers: Facing up to their errors

By Robb Kidd at Otago Daily Times

Police at the scene after tourist Wei Zhang's campervan clipped the bicycle being ridden by Canadian visitor Bernard Gendron on Portobello Rd.
Police at the scene after tourist Wei Zhang's campervan clipped the bicycle being ridden by Canadian visitor Bernard Gendron on Portobello Rd.

They might be bad drivers, but they are not bad people.

The issue of tourists' errant driving has hit the headlines recently while numerous videos of weaving cars on narrow roads continue to flood social media.

It is easy to demonise a faceless foreigner behind the wheel but yesterday three overseas drivers were before the Dunedin District Court, all charged with careless driving causing injury and each with their own story.

The incidents happened within four days of each other and victims and perpetrators have been forever changed by a split-second decision.

One of the negligent drivers stumped up $35,000 - nearly a year's wages - for his victim and another so impressed the woman she hit that she turned up to sentencing in support of the defendant.

A third broke down in the dock sobbing when he was discharged without conviction following a crash that injured his wife and daughter, which was caused indirectly by his Buddhist beliefs. He had swerved to avoid an animal.

Chinese tourist Wei Zhang's case has gained much attention after he clipped Canadian tourist Bernard Gendron with his wing mirror while driving in Portobello Rd on February 11.

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The victim, who was also here on holiday, was thrown over his handlebars and suffered a traumatic brain injury as his wife watched on in horror.

The court heard how 34-year-old Zhang, who was travelling the country with his wife and child, was a man of "modest" means - his job netting him $40,000 a year.

His lawyer Anne Stevens stressed the work he did with disabled children in his role as vice-president of an international Lions club.

Zhang had met the family of the victim, and Marc Gendron, who had flown in from Canada to be at his father's side, spoke at yesterday's hearing about the meeting.

"He apologised profusely and answered our questions sincerely," he said.

Marc Gendron thanked Zhang for the "sacrifice" he made in offering $35,000 to cover part of the family's costs.

The two families would stay in touch,Stevens said.

Zhang was due to fly home today but it was not that simple for Bernard Gendron, who was slowly recovering in Dunedin Hospital and only had limited movement on his left side.

The family had been attempting to arrange his return in a specialised air ambulance with the insurance company but it was "slow progress".

Marc Gendron, pictured with his father Bernard, met with the driver responsible for putting his father in hospital.
Marc Gendron, pictured with his father Bernard, met with the driver responsible for putting his father in hospital.

In sentencing, Judge Michael Turner asked Zhang numerous questions about his driving experience, including whether he had ever driven anything as big as the camper van he was driving when he hit Gendron and whether the rental company asked him about his familiarity with such a vehicle.

"No," Zhang replied.

Hawaiian 63-year-old Barbara Lindsay Lockwood was on holiday "taking in the parks and the wildlife of Central Otago" after a stint of volunteering for the Department of Conservation on February 10.

A few kilometres south of Beaumont, having been stuck behind a car pulling a trailer, she opted to overtake.

But as she drew level with the vehicle, a car came round the corner.

She veered right, Raewyn Napier steered left and they hit head on.

Napier broke her sternum and her foot, while her passenger Janine Dunn suffered broken ribs and extensive bruising.

Despite her injuries Dunn was in court to support Lockwood because the US national was in the country alone.

"She's a lovely lady," the victim said.

"Wrong place, wrong time, really."

The court heard how Lockwood believed she had full insurance coverage and was shocked when she was told of a clause that made it void if she had been driving with insufficient care.

Dunn said the rental company's attitude was "deplorable".

Lockwood was ordered to pay $7500 to the victims and was fined $1000.

Le Cai's case provided more of a conundrum for Judge Turner, who heard the devout Buddhist had reacted when a small animal dashed out in front of his car as he drove down Paradise Rd, near Glenorchy.

The 39-year-old's religious beliefs prevented him harming any living thing, the judge said.

Cai swerved left and into a deceptively deep ditch beside the road.

His 8-year-old daughter and 39-year-old wife were flown to Dunedin Hospital with what were thought to be serious injuries and three other passengers were taken to Lakes District Hospital.

After medical assessment, it was clear none of the passengers was significantly hurt but the stress of the ordeal was clear as Cai sat in the dock wide-eyed yesterday as legal argument was translated into Mandarin. He need not have worried.

"I'm left with the impression that a plea of guilty was entered to the charge based on your need to return to your homeland," Judge Turner said.

"It would be wrong and contrary to the interests and preservation of justice for a conviction to be entered."

Cai was discharged without conviction and broke down in tears as the judge adjourned the hearing, eventually being helped from the courtroom by family members.

"It's had a huge effect on him and his family," his lawyer Ann Leonard said.

- Otago Daily Times

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