A seasonal worker from Vanuatu, who has admitted responsibility for causing the death of two of his fellow countrymen, learned his fate this week. Sandra Conchie reports.
A drunk-driver whose car crashed into a Te Puke garage, killing two of his good friends, grew up with his victims in the same street in a village in Vanuatu.
Tugu Wilson, 30, was behind the wheel of a Kia when he lost control and it crashed into a two-vehicle garage on residential property in No 1 Rd on June 30.
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Fellow Vanuatuan seasonal kiwifruit workers Barry Tari, 24, and Hamsen Surai, 32, were killed and an unnamed fourth person in the front seat received minor injuries.
Wilson, who earlier pleaded guilty to two charges of careless driving causing death with excess blood alcohol, was sentenced in the Tauranga District Court this week.
He was driving with 141 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood in his system at the time of the crash - almost three times the adult legal limit of 50mg.
Wilson told police he drank three shots and some Scrumpy cider before heading home with Surai and Tari seated in the rear of the vehicle.
During the trip, Wilson and Surai began arguing and a distracted Wilson lost control and the car skidded across the road, over a grass berm and into a garage.
The car collided with two vehicles parked inside and crashed through one of the garage's walls on to the lawn outside. The two cars and the garage were written off.
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Tari and Surai had died before emergency services staff arrived.
Crown prosecutor Oliver Salt told Judge Christopher Harding that given Wilson's level of intoxication and the deaths of two people, a significant prison sentence was required.
Salt said another aggravating factor was the fact Wilson had left the crash scene.
Lawyer Drisana Sheeley said her client, who suffered a fractured neck and hand in the crash, had not fled but had gone to his employer's house nearby to seek medical assistance.
Sheeley argued that Wilson, who was a first-time offender before the courts, should receive a sentence of home detention, as he had shown a "significant level of remorse" and accepted full responsibility for his offending.
Wilson, who was undergoing grief counselling, and his family in Vanuatu had done everything in their power to try to make amends to the dead men's families.
His family and the families of his good friends held a customary "Payment of Life" restorative justice ceremony in Vanuatu during which formal apologies were made, and in-kind traditional compensation was offered and received, the court heard.
This included a number of ceremonial mats presented to the victims' family members.
Wilson and the two deceased had lived in the same street in a village in Vanuatu and "regularly hung out together", the court heard.
Judge Harding told Wilson he accepted he was "full with remorse" and the consequences of his criminal actions were likely to "stay with him forever".
"We cannot bring back the two lives who were killed. Hamsen Surai and Barry Tari are dead and their deaths are final and irreversible.
"And no sentence this court imposes can ever cure the pain or the overwhelming sense of loss felt by their families," the judge said.
In a victim impact statement, the father of one of the deceased said he struggled to understand why his only son had been killed, but he forgave Wilson, the court heard.
Wilson, who was visibly stressed, spent most of the sentencing hearing seated in the dock with his head down until asked to stand by Judge Harding to learn his fate.
Judge Harding said after weighing up all the aggravating and mitigating factors, a prison sentence was required to hold Wilson accountable for the grave harm he had done.
The judge noted if he had sentenced Wilson to home detention, he would have been deported almost immediately, meaning he would have effectively received no sanction.
Wilson was jailed for 22 months after the judge said he had taken into account his prior good character, remorse, guilty pleas and the steps taken to make amends.
Wilson was also disqualified from driving in New Zealand for three years, although he was likely to be deported at the conclusion of his jail sentence, the court heard.
Wilson and the two deceased were working for Trevelyan's Pack and Cool at the time of the crash.
The company's managing director, James Trevelyan, said: "This sentencing brings to the end a sad chapter for all of us at Trevelyans.
"Since the accident happened, we have done everything we can to care for and support the people who've suffered from this terrible event. Our workers are like family and this has affected us all, " he said.