24 Jan 2018

Bus driver sentenced after fatal crash

4:41 pm on 24 January 2018

The driver of a bus which crashed on Christmas Eve 2016, killing three people, has been sentenced to five-and-a-half months' home detention.

Talakai Aholelei who was driving the bus which crashed near Gisborne on Christmas Eve.

Talakai Aholelei who was driving the bus which crashed killing three people on Christmas Eve in 2016. Photo: supplied

Talakai Aholelei, 66, was behind the wheel when the bus, with 53 people on board, plunged down a steep bank south of Gisborne.

The bus was carrying a school brass band that was on a four-week fundraising tour from Tonga.

Last year, Aholelei pleaded guilty to three charges of careless driving causing death and 27 charges of careless driving causing injury.

At the Waitakere District Court this afternoon, Judge June Jelas sentenced him to five and a half months' home detention and suspended his licence for two years.

Aholelei has also paid $36,000 in reparations.


Earlier, four victim impact statements were read to the court.

One of the students who was injured, the school's former head boy Tevita Lokotui, told the court he had been asleep in the aisle of the bus when it crashed.

He said there weren't enough seats, so he spent much of the trip sitting in the aisle.

Mr Lokotui, now 19, suffered a significant injury to one of his legs and it was amputated above the knee.

He said he was still receiving treatment in New Zealand and he was not sure when he would be able to return to Tonga permanently.

Mr Lokotui said he had dreamed of joining the Tongan army and playing in the brass band, but he said he was no longer able to do that, because he had lost his leg.

He said he felt sorry for the bus driver and he had no bad feelings towards him.

The parents of the youngest crash victim - Sione Taumololo - and his older sister had their victim impact statements read to the court on their behalf.

His mother said while she had many children, Sione was her favourite and he was the baby of the family.

Aholelei's lawyer, Nalesoni Tupou, told the court his client wanted to convey his apologies to the families of the victims.

Mr Tupou said Aholelei was regretful and remorseful about what had happened.

When he was initially asked to drive the bus for the school group, Aholelei's family had told him he could not, because he could not be away from Auckland for Christmas.

It was only the third time that he was asked that he agreed to drive the bus.

Mr Tupou said his client's life will change forever - he has been a bus driver for over 30 years.

Handing down the sentence, Judge June Jelas said Aholelei made a fatal mistake in continuing to drive the bus, despite his concerns about a problem with the brakes.

He had pulled over in Wairoa and believed that the brakes were just too hot.

"Though you have many talents, you are not a mechanic," Judge Jelas said.

Judge Jelas said he had no reason to make the assessment that the bus was safe and by continuing to drive, he was taking a significant risk.

She said Aholelei realised while travelling down a hill that he was having problems with the brakes. He did what he could to slow the bus, but it was an automatic.

The back of the bus slid sideways, over a railing alongside the road, and down a slope.

The judge said three passengers died and three others had sustained injuries that would have a life-long impact. She said Aholelei had been a bus driver for his whole working life and he would now need to find another job as a result of the crash.