A drunk driver who killed three young people in a fatal collision in Taranaki four-and-a-half years ago could have been legally prevented from driving, the Independent Police Conduct Authority has found.
At around 1.20am on 14 August 2005, Raymond John Hansen crashed his station wagon into a van carrying five young adults at Normanby Bridge on State Highway 3, killing three passengers and seriously injuring the driver and another passenger.
Mr Hansen later pleaded guilty to three charges of manslaughter, two of driving with excess blood alcohol causing injury, and one charge of dangerous driving. He was sentenced to nine years imprisonment, with a non-parole period of five years.
The previous evening, Mr Hansen had been pursued by Police after he had been signalled to stop for driving dangerously. Though Police did not know his identity, after the pursuit they saw his station wagon outside a Hawera bar and kept it under surveillance using closed circuit TV cameras and Police officers parked in vehicles about 250m away.
Despite that surveillance, Mr Hansen managed to get into his car and leave without being seen.
The Authority, in a report released today, found that Mr Hansen was solely responsible for the fatal crash.
However, the Authority also found that the Police could have made enquiries in the bar with the aim of at least trying to identify and arrest Mr Hansen at that point. They could also have used legal powers to have his vehicle immobilised or towed away, or could have waited closer to his vehicle to ensure he was apprehended before he got into it.
“By deciding not to take any of these actions to prevent Mr Hansen from driving, Police failed to act responsibly,” said Authority Chair Justice Lowell Goddard.
“This was not a situation of a suspected intoxicated driver. Rather, it was a situation of a driver who had demonstrably driven dangerously and could be arrested for that offence.”
The alternative option taken by Police – surveillance using CCTV – was flawed as it allowed for the possibility that Mr Hansen would get back into his vehicle and drive, a possibility that eventuated with fatal consequences.
An unfortunate failure of Police radio at the exact time Mr Hansen left the bar also contributed to the failure to stop him from driving.
The Authority did not find that the Police failings amounted to misconduct or neglect of duty.
At the time of this incident, the Police Complaints Authority had a policy of waiting for coronial proceedings to conclude before completing its own investigations. The coronial inquiry was completed on 29 June 2009. The Authority then considered issues arising from the coronial hearings before completing its investigation.