28 May 2016

Judge hails forgiveness after fatal crash

6:04 pm on 28 May 2016

An American tourist whose careless driving killed two Northland women, one of whom was pregnant, will pay $24,000 to the victims' families.

Thomas James Springer, 66, at Kaikohe District Court.

Thomas Springer at Kaikohe District Court. Photo: RNZ / Lois Williams

Thomas James Springer, 66, was sentenced in the Kaikohe District Court today for causing the deaths of Virginia Keogh-Pitman and Kylie-Ann Rakich, who was 8-months' pregnant.

He earlier pleaded guilty to two charges of careless driving causing death.

Judge Greg Davis ordered Springer to make the emotional harm payments he had offered the whānau, of $24,200, and disqualified the tourist from driving for 18 months.

The judge said some whānau had been so angry with Springer they wanted to hit him.

But at a restorative justice hui last week they saw he was also suffering and not only forgave him but urged him to forgive himself.

He said the ability of the whānau to acknowledge Springer's human frailty and forgive him for it was commendable.

Whānau of the women packed the court and several made emotional victim impact statements after a karakia by a kaumatua.

Judge Davis said Springer had driven in New Zealand on a previous visit and felt he was safe doing so - but on 30 April he drifted into the right-hand lane and collided with the car driven by Ms Rakich's partner.

The driver and Mrs Rakich's 5-year old daughter were also injured in the crash.

He said his carelessness had been at the lower end of the scale, but had a tragic outcome, and he commended the whānau who had expressed forgiveness for Springer, at a restorative justice hui last week.

Judge Davis had delayed sentencing until today to give the grieving families time to meet Springer at the restorative justice hui, and the the judge had also opened the Kaikohe District Court on a Saturday to expedite sentencing.

The retired Californian businessman and his wife had been in the Bay of Islands for a short holiday when he drove their rental car into an oncoming car on State Highway Ten just south of Puketona.

Springer's lawyer had told the court his client had a brain tumour and needed to be back in the United States for treatment.