Five passengers in a Chinese tourist bus that lost control near Rotorua were thrown from the bus out its rear window and were killed when the bus rolled and landed on them.
The driver of the bus has today appeared in the Rotorua District Court when he entered guilty pleas to five charges of careless use of a motor vehicle causing death and eight charges of careless use of a motor vehicle causing injury.
Junwei Zhang, 39, was supported by friends in the public gallery and bowed to Judge Maree MacKenzie before entering the dock.
Four adults and a young child died in the crash near Rotorua on September 4 last year.
The bus was carrying 27 people when it rolled on State Highway 5 at Ngatira, 20km northwest of Rotorua, on a stretch of bush-edged road between Waiohotu and Galaxy Rds.
The wounded were treated for injuries at the scene and others flown to hospitals around the North Island.
A police summary of facts, released to the Rotorua Daily Post, said the tourist bus departed Auckland with an itinerary of activities within the Rotorua area.
The bus contained 23 Chinese tourists, two tour guides, one tour leader and Zhang.
Zhang was driving the Sunlong 35-seat passenger coach bus east on State Highway 5 at Ngatira, near Rotorua, about 11am when the crash happened.
The summary said weather conditions at the time were poor with strong winds, cloud and rain. The road was wet with sufficient drainage.
As Zhang approached a sweeping right-hand bend with an 85km/h recommended speed, he veered to the left side of the road.
There is no evidence to suggest the defendant was exceeding the recommended speed, the summary said.
A strong crosswind caused the rear wheels of the bus to slip. The defendant lost control of the bus.
He quickly steered right, causing the rear of the bus to swing left. When the rear of the bus began to drift left, Zhang overcorrected which caused the rear of the bus to swing right into the opposing lane and rotate 180 degrees, the summary said.
As the bus slid off the road, the rear passengers were jolted right, causing five passengers to be propelled out of the right-hand rear windows, the summary said.
The bus continued to slide down a small bank where it rolled on to its side and on top of the five passengers.
As a result, five passengers died and eight suffered moderate to severe injuries.
The summary detailed those injured. Junyin Lei suffered bruising to his hand and a concussion; Xiaojun Li suffered multiple broken ribs, a fractured clavicle and numerous fractures within the pelvic area; Hongbing Zhang suffered a lower spine fracture; Aibi Quan suffered two borken ribs, a fractured sternum and two clavicle fractures; Yuxian Li suffered a neck fracture; Xiaorong Yan suffered a fractured rib and Ying Guo suffered a fractured scapular and a broken rib.
Judge MacKenzie remanded Zhang on bail to be sentenced on September 21 in the Rotorua District Court. Zhang was represented by Laura Owen.
Zhang's friend, who didn't want to be named, told the Rotorua Daily Post outside the courthouse that Zhang was having a difficult time and felt very sorry for what had happened. He said he was still having trouble driving and his friends were doing their best to support him.
Zhang declined to comment.