A meth cook was on bail for a serious drug charge when he drove high on the class A drug and crashed into an oncoming car, killing two people and seriously injuring three others.
But despite the drug driver, Jacob John Greacen, having now admitted to causing the crash, the surviving victims and their whānau will have to wait another four months to see him sentenced.
It is a delay Crown solicitor Cherie Clarke has labelled “outrageous”, as she prepares to approach the judiciary’s top brass with her concerns.
On Friday, Greacen appeared in New Plymouth District Court where he pleaded guilty to two counts of being in charge of a motor vehicle and causing death, three of being in charge of a motor vehicle and causing injury, and one of possession of meth.
The 36-year-old, who worked as a chef, was speeding west in his van along State Highway 3, in Motunui, Taranaki, with two bags of meth on his passenger seat, on November 22 last year.
Around 1.20am, Destiny Arano, 22, was eastbound on the same road with her partner, Te Matangi Broughton, 23, in the backseat, alongside her two siblings, aged 12 and 13, and her grandmother, Maraea Arano, 63, next to her in the front.
Destiny was travelling under the 100km/h speed limit, while Greacen was travelling between 107km/h and 131 km/h.
As he approached a curve in the road, he moved into the eastbound lane and into the path of the victims.
When Destiny realised his van was in her lane, she tried to swerve to avoid him but it was too late and the vehicles collided.
Broughton and Maraea died at the scene while Destiny, her siblings, and Greacen were taken to Taranaki Base Hospital.
While there, a blood sample was taken from Greacen and found to contain meth, also known as P, and Tramadol, an opioid prescription pain medicine.
The surviving victims each sustained multiple serious injuries.
When police attended the crash site, a container holding 6.2g of meth was found in the grass behind Greacen’s van.
A couple of weeks later, police executed a search warrant on his van and found two bags of meth, one containing 0.5g and the other 0.6g, on his passenger seat.
Following a serious crash investigation, the causative factor of the collision was identified as Greacen’s failure to remain in his lane and his crossing into the victims’ path.
Fatigue and the effects of the drugs could not be discounted as being contributory, the police summary of facts stated.
The summary also stated that at the time of the crash, Greacen was on bail pending sentence on one charge of manufacturing meth, for which he was sentenced to two years and six months in May.
At his hearing last week, Greacen appeared via audio-visual link from prison, while the victims’ whānau filled the public gallery.
Framed photos of Broughton and Maraea, both of Hāwera, sat with them.
Clarke told Judge Gregory Hikaka, who recorded the pleas, that she already intended to write a letter of complaint to the Heads of Bench after becoming aware that March sentencing dates were recently given for serious Crown matters in New Plymouth - then she was told Greacen would not be sentenced until April.
“It’s just outrageous, in my submission, Sir, for a date involving two deaths and serious injuries to three other victims that we’re looking at the 17th or 19th of April.”
It would not take counsel long to prepare for the sentencing as Greacen’s cultural and pre-sentence reports were still available from his May sentencing, she said.
Clarke said she has also expressed to the Ministry of Justice that she believed such a delay did not fulfil the demand-based court scheduling initiative it implemented earlier this year.
The system is primarily about scheduling judges into the courts with the largest backlogs and scheduling more events for which there is the most demand, such as trials.
“We were advised by Crown law that the purpose of that model of rostering was to focus on recognising timely justice and applying an immediate response to current and ongoing case demand,” Clarke said.
But New Plymouth seemed to be overlooked, she said, referencing other districts that were being given January sentencing dates.
Clarke said it was not a new issue for the district.
New Plymouth, which has three courtrooms and three resident judges, was in the same position, concerning sentencing dates, as it was three years ago when she then too penned a complaint to the Heads of Bench about the delays.
“It’s just frustrating.”
Judge Hikaka said Greacen’s sentencing would take around two hours, which is longer than most, and that it needed to be “mapped in” with other priorities.
But he supported Clarke’s sentiments and said he too would prefer to see a timely response to matters.
Judge Hikaka asked her to send him a letter, using Greacen’s case as an example, that he could then forward to those responsible for scheduling hearings.
He set the sentencing date as April 17 but said it may change if an earlier date became available.
In a delayed response to questions submitted to the Ministry of Justice on the issue Clarke has raised, Chief District Court judge Heemi Taumaunu acknowledged “many people” were experiencing delays in their District Court cases.
“Nationwide, the courts system has a significant backlog of cases which means it can take longer for cases to be heard,” he said in a statement to NZME.
“The drivers of those delays are complex and vary across jurisdictions and regions.”
In Greacen’s case, Judge Taumaunu said the two-hour timeslot needed was the reason for the April date, and that shorter sentencing timeslots were available in March for less complex matters.
But since priority-based scheduling was introduced across the District Court earlier this year, the backlog has begun to reduce, he said.
“Backlogs have a human cost for victims, defendants and everyone involved in a court case.
“The Ministry of Justice and the judiciary are committed to reducing the backlog to ensure people accessing District Court services receive timely justice.”
Tara Shaskey joined NZME in 2022 as a news director and Open Justice reporter. She has been a reporter since 2014 and previously worked at Stuff where she covered crime and justice, arts and entertainment, and Māori issues.