7 Nov 2023

Police watchdog: No charges after Rotorua tractor crash 'inexplicable'

5:02 pm on 7 November 2023
Assistant Commissioner Richard Chambers speaks after the death of constable Matthew Hunt.

Assistant Commissioner Richard Chambers said police had apologised to the victim's whānau. Photo: RNZ / Sarah Robson

An independent watchdog is calling the police's decision to withdraw charges after a fatal crash 'inexplicable'.

In 2019, 57-year-old Tony Parahi died after heavily braking to avoid colliding with a tractor and trailer on State Highway 36 in Rotorua.

Police charged the driver of the tractor - a local farm worker - with dangerous driving causing death, however, withdrew the charge before the matter went to trial.

The Independent Police Conduct Authority later found the decision was unjustified, and should have been left for a judge to make.

In late January 2019, Parahi was driving along State Highway 36, adjacent to Lake Rotorua, when a 12m-long tractor and trailer moved into his path.

He braked to avoid colliding with it but was thrown onto the road.

His motorcycle also vaulted into the air and landed on him. Members of the public helped, however, he later died at the scene.

Police said the driver of the tractor had pulled over to make room for two cars to pass before they crossed the road to enter a paddock, which took them into Tony's path.

In May 2020, after the matter had been before the courts for 10 months, the police prosecutor decided to withdraw the charges against the tractor driver.

They said no evidence would be offered.

A year later, a coronial inquest into the death of Parahi found the death was an avoidable accident, and the tractor driver was careless for not waiting for the motorbike to pass.

In December 2021 Tony's whānau filed a complaint with the Independent Police Conduct Authority.

The IPCA found the investigation was of "sufficient quality to lay the charge" and says the police's decision was "inexplicable".

It said the decision to withdraw the charges should have been left in the hands of a judge in court.

IPCA chair Judge Kenneth Johnston KC said the trial should have gone ahead, "so that the issue of guilt could be determined following trial before the judge".

Police said they acknowledged and accepted the IPCA's findings, and will resolve to do better.

Assistant Commissioner Richard Chambers says they sincerely regretted the impact the decision had on Tony Parahi's family.

"Our Bay of Plenty staff have met with the victim's whānau to apologise for the grief that this caused them, at a time when they were dealing with the loss of a loved one," he said.

Chambers accepted the decision should have been referred to a judge to consider.

Police said steps were in place to ensure the system was more robust.

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