8 Dec 2023

'Reach out' to those struggling with alcohol, says family of dad killed on highway

7:00 am on 8 December 2023
Andrew Milne with his twin daughters Alice and Sorrel O'Connell-Milne.

Andrew Milne with his twin daughters Alice and Sorrel O'Connell-Milne. Photo: Supplied

The family of a man killed while cycling to Christchurch for his first grandchild's baby shower hopes his death serves as a reminder of the dangers of drink driving.

Andrew Milne was hit on State Highway 1 north of Blenheim in April by a car driven by Samuel Richard Paterson, 29, who was more than five times over the legal limit.

Paterson was sentenced to 11 months home detention and 200 hours of community work, ordered to pay Milne's family $18,000 in reparation and disqualified from driving for three years at the Blenheim District Court on Tuesday.

He was working as a night shift press supervisor at a winery on 19 April, and had taken part in a wine tasting about 2am, before finishing his shift and driving home towards Blenheim, shortly before 7am.

Andrew Milne, 61, was hit and killed by a drunk driver on State Highway 1 in Marlborough.

Andrew Milne, 61, was hit and killed by a drunk driver on State Highway 1 in Marlborough. Photo: Supplied

At the same time, Milne was cycling along State Highway 1 bound for Christchurch, having arrived in Picton on the Bluebridge Ferry not long after 5.30am. He was wearing a yellow high-vis jacket and had lights on the front and back of his helmet, along with the front and back of his bike.

Paterson's vehicle crossed the centre line several times on his journey home, forcing oncoming traffic to take evasive action to avoid a collision. After exiting a sweeping left-hand bend in the highway, he failed to straighten up and hit Milne's bicycle from behind.

Milne was thrown 40 metres from where he was hit and died at the scene as a result of injuries to his head and spine.

His daughter, Alice O'Connell-Milne, said she regretted inviting her dad to her son's baby shower, wondering if had he not set out on that journey, he might still be alive.

She gave birth to Dahli weeks after the crash and said overwhelming grief had intruded on the joy of motherhood.

"From my first moments of having my son in my arms, my grief distracted from the joy of my new baby. I could only sob, thinking of my dad holding me as a baby and having loved me and my siblings so unconditionally the entirety of our lives.

"To not have his love and company into the future is so deeply unfair and inconceivable."

Instead of celebrating her baby's arrival, the family was left to organise a funeral.

"It didn't have to happen, it was an unnecessary, completely avoidable situation and if [Paterson] had made different choices, it wouldn't have happened," O'Connell-Milne said.

Sorrel, Alice and Austin O'Connell-Milne with Alice's son Dahli, who was born after Andrew Milne's death.

Sorrel, Alice and Austin O'Connell-Milne with Alice's son Dahli, who was born after Andrew Milne's death. Photo: RNZ / Samantha Gee

Her twin sister, Sorrel O'Connell-Milne, said family was everything to her father, who was a talented builder and craftsman with a love of cycling, sailing, surfing and adventure.

"Dad has always had an adventurous spirit and he instilled that in us. We would go on massive bike rides together as a family, sometimes with just a few days prep beforehand but he always had safety first and that was evident on the day [he died], five different lights, high-vis," she said.

The family had gone on cycling trips across New Zealand, but none of them had been able to ride again since the crash, she said.

The loss of her "loving, interested and attentive" father had been all-consuming and triggered panic attacks and anxiety that made it difficult to work.

Sorrel O'Connell-Milne attended a restorative justice meeting last week with Paterson, which she said was tough, but gave her a chance to tell him just how much his behaviour had affected their family. She said he expressed his remorse and was seeking help for alcohol and drug addiction.

She asked Paterson to cycle the stretch of road between Picton and Blenheim so he could imagine being in her father's position and that he speak publicly about the crash to illustrate the impact of drink driving on others.

Paterson said he intended to comply with the conditions of his sentence and the expectations of the sentencing judge. While those conditions were still being set by his probation officer, he could not comment any further.

Due to his probation conditions, it is not clear if he will take up the family's challenge to cycle the road where he hit and killed Milne.

Sorrel O'Connell-Milne said she hoped the tragedy would encourage people to help others struggling with problem drinking and support them to make better decisions.

"No one took Sam's keys from him that night, it was so preventable, this didn't need to happen, it is just a huge tragedy," she said.

"I just want all those families with people who are struggling with alcohol to reach out and be there. Those friends that know their mates drink too much just speak up. We see it all the time, people dying on our roads from drunk drivers and it just needs to stop."

Cycling Action Network spokesperson Patrick Morgan said crashes like these were heartbreaking and avoidable.

"Everyone who is using our streets deserves to be safe, they deserve to get home safely whether they are on a bike, walking or driving," he said.

The government, councils and Waka Kotahi could do more to reduce risk of cyclists being killed, he said, including reducing speeds and building wide shoulders or separate cycle paths so riders were safer in fast traffic.

"Nothing in life is without risk, but riding a bike overall is great for health and safety and I would hate to think this avoidable crash would deter anyone from riding a bike," he said.