3 Feb 2017

Fatal crash driver left friend to die

6:35 pm on 3 February 2017

The family of an Invercargill teen have heard about the final, traumatic moments of her life as she lay dying on a Dunedin street while her friend - whose reckless driving caused her death - walked away.

Dunedin man Shay Richards, 20, was today sentenced to three years and three months in prison for reckless driving causing the death of Nakita Strange, 18, in a crash on July 29, 2015.

Four other teens were in the car at the time, three of whom were seriously injured.

Richards was later found to have had 0.3 micrograms of THC, or cannabis, in his system.

Justice David Gendall told the court that Ms Strange and three friends decided to drive to from Christchurch to Invercargill in the early hours of the morning, but realised they did not have enough petrol.

Nakita Strange

Nakita Strange Photo: Supplied

In Dunedin, Ms Strange contacted her friend, Richards, who, along with a friend, met the group and carried out a petrol drive-off from a central city service station.

Richards, who was a learner driver, then began driving erratically through the city, going the wrong way down a one-way street and driving through intersections without stopping.

He ignored the pleas of his passengers to slow down and "stop driving like an idiot", Justice Gendall said.

When Richards reached the intersection of Hope St and Stafford St, he did not slow down at a Give Way sign. A ute passing through the intersection smashed into the teens' car, spinning it around and causing it to hit a parked car and then a wall.

Shay Richards in the Dunedin High Court.

Shay Richards in the Dunedin High Court. Photo: RNZ / Lydia Anderson

As Ms Strange lay dying in the back seat, Richards forced open his driver door and helped some of the teens from the car. He and his friend walked away from the crash scene, while discussing whether to call a taxi.

Meanwhile, the driver of the ute, Anthony Odering, was giving Ms Strange CPR.

'I said goodbye to her for them'

He gave a victim impact statement in court. He apologised in advance to the packed public gallery of Ms Strange's family and friends, for the graphic details that followed.

Anthony Odering

Ute driver Anthony Odering Photo: RNZ / Lydia Anderson

He said he tried not to think about the crash because the memory was so painful.

"I recall the actual moment of impact in slow motion," he said.

"My vehicle went up on two wheels with the force of the impact, and I remember thinking 'this is going to end badly'."

Once the vehicles came to rest and he realised he was not badly hurt, he checked on the teens in the other car.

He worked with another local resident to try to revive Ms Strange, who was in the back seat and was not moving.

Mr Odering got into the car next to her, while paramedics directed him over the phone.

"I remember thinking how peaceful and beautiful she looked. That mental image haunts me," he said.

He tried to perform mouth-to-mouth, but he heard a "deep, gurgling sound" from Ms Strange. Then, he said, he tried chest compressions, but blood spilled from the dying girl's ears.

"I remember wanting to stop, but the ambo officer said I should carry on."

Fighting back tears, he said there was a point where he realised she was dead.

"I'm a father, and I know that if my daughter had died in my arms, I would be saying goodbye to her right then and right then.

"Nakita's family couldn't be there, so I said goodbye to her for them, kissed her on the cheek and wished her godspeed."

Driver remorseful, lawyer says

More than 10 victim impact statements were read to the court on behalf of Ms Strange's family, and three of the other teens involved in the crash, who had never met Richards before that night.

They spoke of an emptiness in their lives without Ms Strange.

Richards' lawyer Anne Stevens told the court her client had been overwhelmed by his feelings of guilt, and told a friend he felt "a hundred percent sh*t".

She said he always accepted responsibility for Ms Strange's death, and pleaded guilty to the charge.

Ms Stevens said Richards had never planned to go out that night, but only did so to help Ms Strange get petrol and continue her journey.

Justice Gendall said Richards had previous driving convictions and had continued to infringe his learner licence conditions after Ms Strange's death.

He said he was not convinced Richards was completely remorseful for the crash.

Richards was also sentenced over three counts of reckless driving causing injury, and one of theft, to be served concurrently.

He was disqualified from driving for four years.