The bus driver at the wheel of a Christmas Eve crash that killed three people has been sentenced to five and a half months home detention.

Talakai Aholelei appeared for sentencing in the Waitakere District Court this afternoon. He was also disqualified from driving from two years, and ordered to pay $36,000 in emotional harm reparations - a cheque for which was presented in court.

In October last year, Aholelei pleaded guilty to 27 counts of careless driving causing injury and three counts of careless driving causing death.

He had initially pleaded not guilty.


On December 24 2016, he was driving people from Tonga's Mailefihi Siu'ilikutapu College brass band to a concert at Gisborne's Wesleyan Methodist Church when it crashed down a steep embankment on State Highway 2.

Sione Taumalolo, 11, and Talita Fifita, 33, died in the crash and Leotisia Malakai, 55, died later in Waikato Hospital.

There were 53 people on board, with dozens injured in the crash.

Judge June Jelas said Aholelei had expressed deep remorse for what had happened.

"If you had the power you would turn back the clock."

During the fatal journey he had missed the Rotorua turnoff on and decided to drive on to Hawke's Bay before heading north towards Wairoa.

They were 20 minutes south of Wairoa when passengers reported that they could smell something like burning rubber, she said.

Aholelei pulled over at a Z Energy station but did not seek assistance from staff members and made the fatal decision to continue driving when he was not familiar with the route.

Judge Jelas said he had determined the brakes were too hot but had no true understanding of the problem and was fortunate police were not pressing more serious charges.

"While you have many talents you are not a mechanic of buses."

Judge Jelas said Aholelei had undertaken an AA driving course after the accident and had offered traditional Tongan gifts at the funerals of the victims.

He was of good character and made "significant contributions to the community", she said.

One of the survivors, Tevita Lokotui, had his left leg amputated at the knee as a result of the crash.

Lokotui told the court of the "hopes and dreams" he had before the crash.

He was the head prefect at the time and had aspirations of joining the army.

But his life was completely changed when he lost his leg.

"It also affected the way I felt at school … seeing people doing things I can't.

"It will take time to change my life, to work out what I can do and what I can't do.

"I spent a lot of time in my room because I wanted to be by myself."

Medical treatment had at times kept him away from his home in Tonga.

"I don't know when I will be able to return to Tonga for good."

Statements from Sione Taumalolo's parents were read in court by one of their daughters.

His mother statement said her 11-year-old son was the one she loved the most.

"This boy is the one I loved the most, he was like my baby and I treated him that way.

"I still can't let my son go even though he has died."

She spoke of anger towards the school.

"The school has not stepped foot in my house to say sorry for what happened to my son."

The father's statement spoke of the effect it had on the family.

"We were a very happy close family before the crash and now that has changed."

The bus company, Ritchies Transport Holdings Ltd (Ritchies Coachlines), is also facing charges in relation to the fatal crash.

The charges were laid by WorkSafe at the Waitakere District Court on December 21 last year, just days before the one-year anniversary of the crash.