A driver who left eight people injured, and one a paraplegic, hugged and shared hongi with victims after they showed "remarkable" forgiveness in court this afternoon.
Patariki Kiel-Bidois, 20, pleaded guilty to eight counts of careless driving after crashing into an Ōpōtiki Primary School van at Lake Rotomā on December 17 last year.
He offered to pay $1000 in reparations to each victim and Judge John Macdonald was about to enforce the payments in the Whakatāne District Court today, when a representative for the victims stood up in the public gallery.
The spokesman said the victims declared their impact statements "null and void" and did not want any money.
He provided a document with their signatures as proof and two victims in court confirmed their views.
The representative said restorative justice hui had been "very positive" and "awesome".
"The relationship with the whānau is fine, regardless of what happened."
He said the victims were relieved to see Kiel-Bidois had "strong whānau support behind him".
"We wish Patariki and his family all the best in the future."
Judge Macdonald responded saying he had "not quite experienced something quite like this before" in his 46 years in law.
"Things have changed rather dramatically in the last few moments."
He commended the victims' decision.
"Their resilience and acceptance of what has happened, their forgiveness and their determination to get on with life is all quite remarkable."
He ordered Kiel-Bidois to complete 200 hours of community service and disqualified him from driving for six months.
Kaye Tai, who lost the use of both legs from a serious spinal injury in the crash, came to court in her wheelchair and cried throughout the sentencing.
She told NZME afterwards she "just wanted to know he [Kiel-Bidois] was going to learn".
"I wouldn't wish this upon anyone."
Tai was an administrative staff member at the school at the time of the crash.
The police summary of facts said Kiel-Bidois had never been before the courts.
He was driving about 80km/h at 5.10pm in a ute in heavy rain when a vehicle in front slowed.
Kiel-Bidois braked heavily and the ute slid before he panicked and handbraked.
He then slid across the centre line into the path of an oncoming Toyota Hiace with the school staff.
Nine were inside and eight were injured, some of whom spent weeks in hospital.
In addition to Kaye Tai's injuries, a colleague's elbow was dislocated and their wrist was broken, another had a fractured elbow, one had a ruptured spleen and bruised lungs, another had severe bruising to both legs, one had a broken arm and fractured shoulder, another had a laceration on their left shin and the other had a fractured shoulder and hand laceration.
Both vehicles were extensively damaged.
Macdonald said the "careless" aspect was the unsafe handbraking.
He noted the driver in front of Kiel-Bidois also slid when hitting the water.
But she was not following a car and did not have to brake suddenly to avoid rear-ending, as Kiel-Bidois did.
NZ Police prosecutor Sergeant Phil Patterson told the court he was aged 20 when he was first in a crash and "understood the circumstances" Kiel-Bidois had experienced.
Kiel-Bidois' defence lawyer Roger Gowing said his client made "a split-second decision" but his careless driving was "at the lower end of the scale".
He said the victims' offer to decline payments was "a very generous one".
Kiel-Bidois' restorative justice hui report said he stood respectfully as each victim spoke, apologised to each one and showed genuine remorse.
Facilitators said it was "one of the best conferences in many years".