30 Jan 2013

NZ man behind wheel in fatal Kenya crash

6:02 am on 30 January 2013

New Zealand and African authorities have been told a young New Zealander was driving a minivan which crashed in Kenya, killing four people.

Brian and Grace Johnston and former pupil Caitlin Dickson were killed when the minivan they were travelling in along with other volunteers from Bethlehem College rolled into a ditch on 15 January this year.

The group of 19 volunteers were travelling from the port city of Kisumu to the small village of Mahanga and were in Africa as part of the Tauranga-based college's missionary programme.

Initially, the school said that Kenyan Christopher Mmata, who also died in the crash, was driving.

But on Tuesday, principal Eoin Crosbie revealed that David Fellows, 18, who graduated from the college last year and holds a full New Zealand driver's licence, was driving the minivan when it crashed.

Mr Crosbie said it appears it had been arranged to swap drivers and that he lost control after a few minutes behind the wheel.

The principal told Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint programme the school has launched an inquiry and authorities in Africa and New Zealand as well as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) have been informed.

He said the college is sure that David Fellows was driving the vehicle, but it wants to know "the truth around that and why it happened".

When asked why police and MFAT had been informed, Mr Crosbie said the matter "needs to be dealt with at the highest level".

Eoin Crosbie said Mr Fellows was asked by a team leader named Calvine to delay telling the truth about who was driving.

"We can only envisage that Calvine asked him to do that because his priority was to get the team members home and he didn't want a police investigation to inhibit that in any way. His priority was to get people looked after and back to New Zealand as quickly as possible."

Mr Crosbie said the school is also seeking legal advice about whether David Fellows could be charged by police.

Board wants answers

Greg Hollister-Jones, the chair of the college's board of trustees, said on Tuesday it was a surprise to learn that the group had swapped drivers.

"We were very concerned to find out that arrangements had been made to have someone else driving the van. Our belief and expectations were that the local driver would be driving at all times during the trip."

"The board's going to take seriously the circumstances of that swap and who knew what."

Mr Hollister-Jones said the college's may take weeks while information is gathered in Kenya and New Zealand.

Most of the volunteers have returned to New Zealand, but one person is still receiving treatment in Nairobi Hospital. Funerals for the New Zealanders killed were held last week.