The sister of a Rotorua Higgins worker killed in a crash at Matatā was openly distraught after the man who admitted killing her brother and two others was not sent to jail.

Tauranga man David Michael Cox, 47, was sentenced in the Whakatāne District Court today after previously pleading guilty to three careless driving charges relating to the crash which killed Rotorua road workers Haki Hiha, David Eparaima and Dudley Soul Raroa.

Cox was ordered to pay $21,000 emotional harm reparation, complete 250 hours of community work and was disqualified from driving for 21 months.

Outside court, Raroa's sister Lovey Tamata was distraught, questioning why Cox was not sent to jail.

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"He will never see the inside a bloody jail... Why not? He killed three innocent people doing their everyday jobs," she sobbed.

After she had been comforted, Tamata was cuddling her brother's moko, Ruby Dudley Edwards, named after Raroa. The girl was born the morning of the day Raroa was killed.

At sentencing, Judge Peter Rollo said the victim impact statements, which were not read in court, made it clear the three men were much loved by whānau.

He said they were men of mana, men of aroha and men of manaakitanga.

Appearing for Cox, lawyer Tony Balme said Cox offered his deepest apologies to the families of the victims.

"He [Cox] committed an error of judgement that had terrible consequences," Balme said. "He still struggles to explain or articulate how he came to commit this error."

Balme told the court Cox had suffered both mentally and physically as a result of the crash. "There are mental health issues, he is suffering from depression and has reoccurring nightmares of the crash."

Cox took part in two restorative justice conferences, one with the family of Haki Hiha and the second with the Eparaima family. The family of Dudley Soul Raroa chose not to take part.

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In summarising the crash, Judge Rollo spoke about human error.

"On that day [February 26] you had 450m of clear visibility and the Higgins truck was there to be seen. It had a large road works sign in high visibility colours, its hazard lights were flashing and a roof top light was flashing.

"The left-hand side of the truck you were driving clipped the rear right-hand side of the Higgins truck, your error of judgement was of some 200mm."

"You could liken that to scraping the side of a building. You had an all-too-human moment of failure, something we all experience from time-to-time but fortunately not all ending in such grave circumstances."

Judge Rollo said the men working on site would have thought enough measures had been taken to highlight what they were doing and that they would have been safe.

Speaking to the Rotorua Daily Post outside court, Charles Eparaima, the older brother of David Eparaima, said his whānau had gone into today's sentencing knowing what to expect.

"We knew roughly, what the sentence would be," Eparaima said. "Is it just? I don't know. Is it fair? I don't know that either. But it is what it is within the law and we need to move forward from here.

"I am here to make sure my sister-in-law can move forward, actually so we can all move forward, because staying in this moment won't do anyone any good."

He described the restorative justice process as awesome but said perhaps the Sentencing Act needed to be looked at.