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9 Apr 2024

Tesla crash: Judge finds driver Saurbh Sharma guilty of causing young Auckland lawyer’s death

1:10 pm on 9 April 2024

By Belinda Feek, Open Justice multimedia journalist, Waikato of NZ Herald

The scene of a fiery crash on Dawson Road in Taupiri involving a Tesla motor car driven by Saurbh Sharma of Auckland on 04 January 2022 that killed passenger Shubham Kaur, a lawyer from Auckland
NZME photograph by Dean Evans 17 January 2022

The charred remains of a hedge and surrounding bush from a fiery crash on Dawson Rd pictured on 17 January 2022. Photo: Supplied / NZME

A man who was driving a Tesla when it crashed, caught fire and claimed the life of his passenger has been found guilty - but the victim's family say nothing other than a jail sentence will give them any justice.

Auckland lawyer Shubham Kaur died at the scene of the high-speed crash in Taupiri in 2022. The driver, Saurbh Sharma was charged with careless driving causing the 22-year-old's death.

Now Judge Glen Marshall has found Sharma guilty after rejecting his defence, including his "remarkable and implausible" contention that his search of "how to delete Tesla recordings"on his iPhone immediately after the crash was caused by the phone's auto-populate function.

Kaur's family told NZME that while they were pleased with the verdict nothing other than jail would suffice.

Shubham Kaur a lawyer form Auckland died in a vehicle accident 04 January 2022 when a Tesla car driven by Saurbh Sharma crashed and burst into flames at Taupiri
picture supplied

Shubham Kaur, a lawyer from Auckland, died in an accident in January 2022 when a Tesla car driven by Saurbh Sharma crashed and burst into flames at Taupiri. Photo: Supplied / NZME

But that meant three more months of stress as Sharma has been remanded off for sentencing in July.

Through his lawyer Shafraz Khan in the Hamilton District Court today, he indicated that he might file a discharge without conviction application; meaning Sharma could walk free.

"We lost a very close person in our life and the reality of what we're feeling will still go on for three more months," Kaur family spokesperson Nerperit Singh told NZME.

"They're still feeling as though justice has not been done.

"Even if he gets the highest penalty, I don't think that will be enough for what he's done to the family. That's the concern.

"He should be jailed."

Kaur's family, who had since suffered financially from their daughter's death, had attended each of the five days in court, with the judge alone trial split between Huntly and Hamilton District Courts. Judge Marshall delivered his reserved decision today to a gallery packed with supporters from both sides.

Sharma - who already has a conviction for driving at a dangerous speed - had defended a charge of careless driving causing Kaur's death on Dawson Rd, Taupiri, on January 4, 2022. The crash scene stretched for about 100m, including an area where the Tesla was airborne before sliding along an embankment and smashing through a power pole.

The car then burst into flames.

Locals first to the scene saw smoke and urged Sharma, who at that stage was on his phone talking to family, to get out of the car.

Saurbh Sharma of Auckland outside the Huntly District Court where he is facing charges of careless driving causing the death of Shubham Kaur, a lawyer from Auckland, on Dawson Road in Taupiri on 04 January 2022
NZME photograph by Belinda Feek 27 February 2024

Saurbh Sharma, 26, of Auckland pictured outside the Huntly District Court in February during the first two days of his trial. Photo: Supplied / NZME

Sharma had contended he wasn't speeding and told police that he'd swerved to avoid a raccoon and that he'd dragged Kaur out onto the grass about a metre away.

Kaur's remains were later found underneath the car.

Judge Marshall said Sharma's raccoon explanation was also "implausible", especially given his upset state at the time, and showed his evidence was "clearly unreliable" as the gauge marks on the road were in a straight line and not on an angle which would have suggested he had swerved.

He found that Sharma came up with that scenario as he thought he might be found culpable for what happened.

In his DVD interview with former Detective Constable Harjot Sandhu, it was put to Sharma that the initial police findings showed he was travelling about 140km/h at the time of the crash, given the extent of the damage, how long it took for his vehicle to stop, and that Kaur died.

Shafraz Khan, Sharma's counsel, was partially successful in dismissing that suggestion, with Judge Marshall finding he was likely travelling "at least 120km/h".

The first call to 111 was from Dawson Rd resident Amy Reeves at 4.09pm, while the first activity on Sharma's phone after the crash was at 4.11pm when he used Safari to search "how to delete Tesla recordings".

He called 111 30 seconds later, but it went unanswered. Thirty-six seconds later he called his sister, then his brother-in-law who was a policeman.

Cross-examination between Khan and Sandhu during the trial was at times slightly tense, as Khan put forward the suggestion that the Tesla recording search was a coincidence, and popped up on his Safari search bar automatically after having typed the words "how to".

Sandhu said that would be "strange".

The scene of a fiery crash on Dawson Road in Taupiri involving a Tesla motor car driven by Saurbh Sharma of Auckland on 04 January 2022 that killed passenger Shubham Kaur, a lawyer from Auckland
NZME photograph by Dean Evans 17 January 2022

The crash scene along Dawson Rd after a new power pole had been erected. Photo: Supplied / NZME

Judge Marshall found Sharma was distracted driving on a road he'd never driven before and not noticing the "dip" in the road ahead of him.

The judge cited supplied evidence that Dawson Rd was used by 300 to 500 cars each day, yet there'd only been one other serious crash in that area since 2017.

"What caused the crash was the fact Mr Sharma lost control after entering the dip... it was obvious to me that Mr Sharma was distracted by the circumstances he found himself in.

"He was on an unfamiliar rural road, he should have been paying careful attention to the road conditions.

"He became too relaxed and was enjoying Ms Kaur's company. They were laughing, talking, and listening to music.

"These distractions led him to fail to attend to the road conditions by being able to concentrate properly."

After the car bottomed out on the dip, Sharma likely panicked causing him to brake and lose control of the car.

"This was under the same conditions that thousands of other drivers had safely negotiated that same stretch of road.

"None of the matters raised by the defence created in my mind a reasonable possibility that the crash was caused by a factor other than Mr Sharma's loss of control of his vehicle."

* This story originally appeared in the New Zealand Herald.

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