17 Oct 2017

'Conciliatory' offer helps fatal crash driver avoid prison

8:47 pm on 17 October 2017

Mercy, remorse and kindness were the hallmarks of a court sentencing today, in which a young Marlborough man avoided prison for a fatal driving accident he caused.

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Flynn Struthers at today's sentencing. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

Flynn Struthers hung his head as he was sentenced in the Blenheim District Court to six months' community detention and 100 hours' community work for the accident that killed 16-year-old Lara Glover.

Struthers, 17, was the driver of an SUV that crashed near Blenheim in February in which five others were injured, some of them seriously.

The court heard how Struthers, who was on his restricted licence, was "skylarking" at the wheel of a vehicle he lost control of, and which there were young people - most not wearing seatbelts.

They had headed out on a hot summer's day in a vehicle owned by Struthers' parents. After pulling out of a petrol station, and being yelled at by a forecourt attendant to slow down, Struthers was soon in the midst of what was described as a chaotic scene.

His deliberate action of "shaking" the driving wheel rapidly side to side caused the vehicle to "snake" down the highway, and eventually roll several times, coming to rest 132m down the road. The weight of the passengers being flung about contributed to Struthers not being able to control the vehicle.

Ms Glover was thrown out, and died at the scene.

Struthers appeared increasingly upset as Judge David Ruth read out the summary of injuries suffered by several in the car that day, including one young man the judge described as having life-changing injuries.

A victim impact statement was prepared by his father and read on his behalf by Crown prosecutor Ruth Thomas. It included a harrowing account of the impact on the family the day of the accident, and every day since.

His injuries required a life-saving flight to Wellington where he endured surgery on his head, back and internal organs.

A serious brain injury caused a frightening change in his personality, which left nurses afraid of his behaviour in hospital, the statement read.

"He would scream and make sounds that were often animal-like and we spent a lot of time working out which screams were pain and which were frustration."

The brain injury has had far-reaching consequences for him and his family.

Ms Thomas said in the statement he has recovered to some degree, but remained vulnerable, and their focus was on giving him the best long-term outcome.

Judge David Ruth told Struthers he should be grateful for the compassion shown by the families of the victims.

He said the conciliatory approach shown by Miss Glover's mother was a reason he avoided prison.

Her victim impact statement was suppressed.

"While the view of victims are not determinative in that regard, they certainly hold sway with me, and you should be very grateful for that conciliatory offer on their behalf, and their attitude which so easily could have been one of hatred, but is not," Judge Ruth said.

He said the court was "ill-equipped" to compensate for the loss of a family member, especially one so young. He said the cost to New Zealand from vehicle accidents now approached $4 billion annually.

Judge Ruth said Struthers' inexperience as a driver meant he did not understand the danger that day, and the potential for such a disastrous outcome.

He said Struthers' offer of a $20,000 reparation payment went some way to reveal his true remorse, along with a letter he wrote to the families.

Judge Ruth awarded $8000 from the amount to the family of Lara Glover, with the remainder to be divided equally among the other victims.

Struthers was also disqualified from driving for three years.