1 Jun 2013

Driver jailed over death of teenage sisters

5:57 am on 1 June 2013

A judge says the behaviour of a man who killed two teenaged sisters when he raced his car and crashed it after drinking heavily was nothing short of atrocious.

Hetaraka Reihana, 21, was sentenced at the High Court in Hamilton on Friday to seven years and six months in prison, with a minimum non-parole period of three years and six months.

Reihana admitted causing the death of his cousins, 13- and 14-year-old sisters Brooklyn and Merepeka Morehu-Clark, who were passengers in the car when it crashed at Welcome Bay near Tauranga on Christmas Day 2011.

He was racing two other vehicles at speeds of up to 120km/h and overtook on a blind corner before crashing. He was jointly charged with the girls' mother and another man, but they were found not guilty at a trial in March.

At the time of the crash, Reihana was twice over the legal alcohol limit, was a suspended driver and had a previous drink-drive conviction.

Justice Gilbert on Friday described it as a very serious case of motor manslaughter.

"The manner of your driving which caused the death of these two girls was nothing short of atrocious. That it ended in tragedy was almost inevitable. It is fortunate that more people were not killed or seriously injured."

Reihana's lawyer Panama Le'au'anae relayed a message from Reihana to the family of the two girls.

"Words can not express the loss of the girls. I wake up every morning to those memories. I can't imagine what it must be like to walk in your shoes with this amount of pain. All I can say is, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry that I chose to drink and then drive."

Justice Gilbert said Reihana ignored the pleas of one of his passengers to slow down, and he will have to live with that. He accepted that Reihana was extremely remorseful but said a strong deterrent sentence was necessary.