Families angry over sentencing for deadly Whakatāne truck crash

7:16 pm on 19 June 2019

The judge who passed sentence on a truck driver who crashed into and killed three road workers in the Bay of Plenty has described it as "an all too human momentary failure".

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Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

David Michael Cox was today sentenced to 250 hours' community work, disqualified from driving for 21 months and ordered to pay $21,000 in emotional harm reparation to the victims' families.

Many family members of the dead men are angry at what they say is a lenient sentence.

"Where's the bloody justice?" Shouted one woman as she cried outside the court building.

Dozens of the men's whānau packed into the Whakatāne District Court to hear the sentence passed down on Cox.

His head bowed throughout the emotional sentencing, Cox had earlier pleaded guilty to three charges of careless driving causing death.

On a sunny February afternoon, he was delivering some furniture from Tauranga to Whakatāne when his vehicle swiped a truck which had a sign on it indicating roadworks were taking place.

The force of the collision shunted the truck forward - before it overturned - killing Dudley Sole Raroa, David Reginald Te Wira Eparaima and Haki Graham Hiha who were in a roadside culvert.

Judge Peter Rollo said Cox had misjudged the distance between the two trucks by 20cm.

"The three men had been standing beside the truck. They were crushed by the vehicle overturning on them. A very tragic situation.

"Undoubtedly they would have thought that the measures they took to highlight their position with the work they we're doing would have been adequate to keep them safe and secure. But it was not to be."

Judge Rollo said Cox was an experienced driver, he had unimpeded visibility of about 450m and he was seated in an elevated position in his truck.

It should have been an ordinary passing manoeuvre.

"This was a terrible and tragic accident. It was not a deliberate or even a reckless act. It was regrettably, an all to human, momentary failure. An inexplicable lapse of concentration by you that we all experience from time.

"It's part of the human condition that we occasionally make mistakes, fortunately not with such grave consequences as in this instance."

The judge said Mr Raroa, Mr Eparaima and Mr Hiha were men of mana who were highly respected, and loved by their families.

"The consequences for the men are obvious. For the family, whānau, friends workmates and the community it has been tragic, devastating and immensely sad.

"They struggle to understand how the events could have happened and the loved ones snatched from them, from life. From the promise, indeed, of a new niece for one family born that very morning yet to be held and marvelled at."

Cox's lawyer Tony Balme said his client, who was also injured in the crash, struggled to explain why he committed this error of judgement.

He fully accepted responsibility.

"There are also ... mental health issues, Sir. He is suffering from depression, recurrent nightmares. His wife expresses through the probation officer her concerns about his ongoing ability to cope with the consequences of his actions."

Speaking outside of court, Mr Eparaima's brother Todd tearfully expressed his unhappiness with the sentence.

"Look, whatever happened we can never replace [him]. But this is the law of the land.

"We don't agree with it because people have to pay for what they do."

The court was told that Cox was not in a good financial position but would sell his car to pay reparation for the families, which he had offered to be $21,000.