Amelia Wade is a court reporter for the New Zealand Herald

Two drunk crashes, two families torn apart - one warning

Keleiola Pifeleti (left) was killed by her cousin in a drink-drive crash and Elizabeth Natua was killed by her brother. Photos / Supplied
Keleiola Pifeleti (left) was killed by her cousin in a drink-drive crash and Elizabeth Natua was killed by her brother. Photos / Supplied

In the space of two weeks, two young men were sentenced in neighbouring courtrooms for killing a close female relation in a drink-driving crash.

The cases were similar. It was late, the two men had been drinking at parties in Auckland, decided to get behind the wheel, sped, then lost control and hit a parked car.

Paul Pifileti, then 28, killed his cousin, Keleiola. He had a blood alcohol reading of 137mg per 100ml of blood. The limit for adults is 50mg.

Iriea Natua, then 19, killed his sister, Elizabeth, when driving with a blood alcohol reading of 70mg per 100ml of blood. The limit for those under 20 is zero.

Police have one warning: Don't drink and drive.

PAUL PIFELETI - sentenced December 14, 2016

He'd been drinking, but Paul Pifeleti thought he was okay to drive home from the family gathering.

But it was a decision that cost his cousin's life; 15 years after his aunt lost her husband in a drunken crash.

In the small hours of August 17, 2015 in the Auckland suburb of Onehunga, he got behind the wheel with his sister, Jane, beside him in the passenger seat and 17-year-old cousin, Keleiola "KJ", in the back.

He thought he was fine.

But a judge said Pifeleti was obviously "so impaired by alcohol" he didn't turn around to KJ and tell her: "Hey KJ cuz, put your seatbelt on. I'm not going to drive until you do," Judge Claire Ryan said Pifeleti should have told her.

The then 28-year-old was also "so busy chatting" to his passengers, he claimed he didn't notice his speed creep up to at least 92km/h in the 50km/h zone.

As he rounded a left-hand bend, he lost control, crossed the centre line and slammed into a parked car. KJ was thrown forward and sustained serious head injuries.

She died two days later.

Pifeleti was charged with drink-driving causing death. He told police and the Auckland District Court he thought was okay to drive.

Judge Ryan said with a reading of 137mg his decision making was clearly impaired.

"You probably did think at that point that you were okay to drive because you were impaired.

"Our accident and emergency centres are filled on Friday and Saturday evenings with people who, when drunk, think they can do things that when they are sober they know they could never do."

Pifeleti also deliberately drove to a party where he knew he'd be drinking without organising a sober driver or putting $20 in his back pocket for a taxi, Judge Ryan said.

But what made the case so much more tragic was that it was the second time the family had lost a beloved family member in a drunken crash. When KJ was 4 years old, her mother, Malia, lost her husband.

In her victim impact statement, Malia described her daughter as "her champion" who had the biggest, warmest smile of all three of her children. She was fun-loving and had a big personality.

Malia wished KJ hadn't gone out that night and had stayed at her nana's instead.

"I know she was not prepared to leave me like this. I know she trusted her cousin's driving but never dreamed such a terrible tragedy would happen to her," her mother said.

She wanted Pifeleti and the other cousins to be aware of their actions and know they could affect loved ones for a lifetime.

At sentencing the courtroom was filled with grieving family members. Judge Ryan accepted his remorse and told him it was something he would have to live with for the rest of his life.

Pifeleti was jailed for 22-and-a-half months for both drink-driving causing death and careless driving causing death, to be served concurrently.

"How many will die on the roads before young people like you heed the message?"

IRIEA NATUA - sentenced November 24, 2016

Iriea Natua drove drunk and sped. His decision killed his sister, Elizabeth, injured two friends and left him facing a year of home detention.

When he lost control of his car in Mt Roskill, he slammed into a parked car, careened across the road, hit another car before spinning and hitting a tree.

Elizabeth was sitting in the spot where Natua's Honda ploughed into the tree.

She died at the scene.

Iriea Natua was for dangerous driving causing the death of his cousin, Elizabeth Natua. Photo/Amelia Wade
Iriea Natua was for dangerous driving causing the death of his cousin, Elizabeth Natua. Photo/Amelia Wade

Natua, then 19 years old, had a blood alcohol reading of 70mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood. The limit for under 20s is zero.

At sentencing at the Auckland District Court, Judge Ajit Singh said no punishment he could impose would back bring back his sister or reverse the suffering the two other victims had to endure.

"I understand you were very close to your sister and that in itself will be a punishment with which you will live for the rest of your life."

He accepted Natua had genuine remorse for his offending, especially given a private meeting had been held between him, his family, his victims and their whanau.

Judge Singh sentenced Natua to 12 months' home detention for dangerous driving causing death and a three-year disqualification from driving, 12 months for two charges of dangerous driving causing injury, and three years disqualification to be served concurrently.

ONE WARNING

At all costs, do not get in the car with a driver who is drunk: That's the message from Inspector Trevor Beggs, the Waitemata road policing manager.

"Whenever we have a crash anywhere on the road, it's always a tragedy to lose a family member and it's devastating for the whole family, whether the driver knew the person who has passed away or not.

"It's something that they carry around with them for the rest of their lives."

Beggs said there was always another alternative to drink driving and asked people to "be sensible, plan ahead" by nominating a sober driver, getting picked up or taking a taxi.

"We ask people to be responsible, because you're not only putting yourself at risk, but you're putting other people at risk in the wider community."

- NZ Herald

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