The widow of a man killed in a car crash hugged the soldier who was behind the wheel, but reserved her anger for the Defence Force.
Masterton man Warren Carter, 71, was killed when a Unimog, driven by Dayne Jordan Pennington, 24, crashed into his car at an Ashhurst intersection on August 10 last year.
Yesterday, Carter's widow, Joan, hugged Pennington in the Palmerston North District Court, where he was discharged without conviction after pleading guilty to careless driving causing death.
The court heard Joan Carter told Pennington in a restorative justice session: "Nothing is going to bring Warren back, and there seems no point in ruining your life because of that. Go out and live the best life you can."
The Unimog collided with the Carters' vehicle, "shunting" it sideways. Both vehicles ending up in a ditch.
Warren Carter suffered major head and chest injuries and died at the scene. Joan Carter received minor injuries.
Joan Carter said she did not want the future of the young soldier, who wants to join the police force, tarnished with a conviction.
However, she slammed the responses of the army and Minister of Defence Ron Mark, in a letter to the Wairarapa Times-Age.
Carter wrote that after her husband's death she had discovered "a strength to fight to ensure no other civilian harmed by the army is ever again treated with the lack of respect, compassion and basic humanity I, and my family, experienced".
"It became obvious that the army's way of dealing with me as a civilian was just to pretend I didn't exist in the vain hope that I would eventually disappear."
She met Mark, which left her feeling "disillusioned", she said.
Mark is out of the country and unable to respond to questions, but a spokesperson for the New Zealand Defence Force said it "stands by the decision of the court".
"The New Zealand Defence Force's Court of Inquiry [recommended] a family liaison officer be appointed at times of incidents that involve civilians. The liaison officer will have a defined role and responsibilities.
"A second recommendation called for policy and procedures to be put in place to deal with non-NZDF personnel involved in serious incidents. These recommendations are being actioned."
There was no concession that Pennington's training had been inadequate and a review of the driver's course found no changes were needed.
"The driver involved had passed all necessary training required and was under instruction at the time of the accident."
Carter said she was grateful for the "healing power" of forgiving Pennington.
"Forgiveness has been the most unexpected and amazing gift this tragic life experience has given me."