The passenger of a teen driver who killed a pedestrian then filmed the scene for TikTok says he came close to paralysis and considered suicide after the horror crash.
Patrizia Stephens was jailed this week for the October 2022 crash which killed Tom Martin, who was walking home from the pub at the time. She earlier pleaded guilty to manslaughter and two counts of reckless driving causing injury.
Martin’s disgusted family spoke of the TikTok footage during the 19-year-old’s sentencing in the High Court at Palmerston North on Thursday, saying she laughed as she filmed the scene where Martin was dying.
“I only hope Tom did not hear your laughter,” one relative said.
Also at the scene was Stephens’ backseat passenger Zane Bullivant, who suffered multiple severe injuries which still cause him serious pain more than a year later.
“I had a broken sternum and I snapped my forearm in half - I’ve got two plates and 12 bolts holding both of the forearm bones together,” he told the Herald.
He also suffered internal bleeding and broke his pelvis in four different places.
Bullivant said doctors told him he could not put any weight on his legs at all during his recovery, as any further damage could lead to permanent paralysis.
He was told not to start trying to walk for at least six months after the crash, but suicidal thoughts brought on by his lack of self-sufficiency prompted him to start moving about his house on a walker less than two months later.
“I had to call my mum a couple of times when I was in the wheelchair because I wanted to just end my life. I was on the phone with her for a couple of hours just bawling my eyes out,” he said.
Bullivant still has not returned to full function and experiences ongoing pain from his injuries, including a constant ache in his forearm when the weather is cold.
The 24-year-old had been in the back of Stephens’ car on the night of the crash, and had asked her to stop before she ploughed through a red light at the intersection of Palmerston North’s Main St and Ruahine St.
Stephens was travelling at least 75km/h in a 50km/h zone when she drove through the intersection, hitting another car, crashing into a pole, then careening out of control down the road until her car mounted the footpath and crushed 59-year-old Martin into a building.
Bullivant found himself partially outside of the car with Martin lying on top of him.
“I’m still alive, I feel bad for Tom’s family,” he said.
He said he had since spoken to one of Martin’s family members and apologised “over and over”, though the man assured him he was not at fault.
“I feel like I’m partly to blame,” he said, wondering whether he could have done something more to get Stephens to stop. What Martin’s family were going through upset him the most, he said.
Mentally, Bullivant is still struggling with the trauma of that night, and finds himself anxious if he is being driven by another person. He finds intersections with traffic lights particularly triggering.
“Sometimes I close my eyes, especially if it’s going to turn orange,” he said.
Bullivant said Stephens - who had been attending boy racer meets and had smoked “20 bongs” before the crash - immediately blocked him on all social media even as he lay injured in hospital. He was still able to see her laughing TikToks from the scene of the crash, though.
Bullivant said he felt disbelief that “someone can be like that after doing such a bad thing”.
He was disappointed at her three-year, four-month prison sentence, though he acknowledged the length was partly due to her youth and lack of prior convictions.
“I would have got, like, 11 to 12 years and I would have taken it on the chin for what I’d done,” he said.
At sentencing, Justice Cheryl Gwyn said Stephens had continued smoking cannabis, indicating she had not taken responsibility for what she had done.
“You instead choose to avoid processing what you’ve done by smoking cannabis.”
As well as the prison sentence, Justice Gwyn disqualified Stephens from driving for four years, starting from the end of her prison term.
Melissa Nightingale is a Wellington-based reporter who covers crime, justice and news in the capital. She joined the Herald in 2016 and has worked as a journalist for 10 years.