19 May 2017

Man jailed for driving death 'overtook on a blind corner'

5:24 pm on 19 May 2017

A man jailed for five years for reckless driving which led to the death of his passenger had five previous convictions for similar offending.

Damian Lawson in the High Court in Wellington.

Damian Lawson in the High Court in Wellington. Photo: RNZ

Damian Lawson, 44, was sentenced in the High Court in Wellington where he was also disqualified from driving for five years.

Shortly before the crash in May last year, Lawson and the 21-year-old crash victim - whose name has been permanently suppressed - had been smoking methamphetamine.

At the time he was on bail with a warrant out for his arrest, and he was driving in breach of the conditions of his licence.

Justice Thomas said Lawson had a long list of previous driving convictions, including two for dangerous driving and five for reckless driving.

He sped away when a police car approached, and crashed into a motorway overbridge in Porirua.

However, Justice Thomas said that did not stop him.

"You [then overtook] a bus on the wrong side of the road, narrowly missing a head-on collision. You overtook another vehicle on a blind corner."

When he swerved to miss another vehicle, Lawson lost control of his car, which slid across the road, crashing through a metal fence before hitting a large tree.

Justice Thomas said he was speeding at the time and the passenger's side of the car took the impact, causing the victim's seat to collapse to about third its original size.

"The victim ... suffered multiple rib fractures, major airway and blood vessel damage to her chest, contusions to brain and lacerations to head and died as a result of her injuries."

Lawson told the police the dead woman was his fiancee, the love of his life and when she threatened to take her own life he decided to drive her to a hospital in Porirua.

He said he could not find the hospital and had texted a friend seeking the address shortly before the pursuit began.

Justice Thomas said Lawson had, however, taken full responsibility for the crash and it was appropriate he did so.

"You decided to drive while under the influence of drugs.

"You drove recklessly trying to evade the police and that resulted in the death of the victim.

"The appropriate course would have been for you to ask the police for help if you had indeed been trying to take the victim to Kenepuru Hospital."

Justice Thomas set a six-year sentence starting point, but gave Lawson discounts for his guilty plea, remorse and his acceptance of responsibility for what had happened.

She said he had also suffered severe injuries in the crash.

"You broke your neck, fractured your back, received several facial fractures and skull fractures.

"You have permanent damage to your vision and spent some two and a half months in the acute brain injury rehabilitation unit."

In a statement released this afternoon, the victim's mother, whose name is also suppressed, expressed relief that justice had been done.

"My daughter's death was totally preventable; her life was lost tragically due to the choices and actions of the driver.

"I hope the time he is going to spend in prison results in him never forgetting the hurt, harm and devastation he has caused and that he never endangers the lives of others again."