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Police investigation of fatal crash inadequate

28 September 2023

The Independent Police Conduct Authority has found that, while Police’s decision to charge a man for causing a crash that killed two people was justified, their subsequent decision to escalate the charges from ‘careless’ to ‘aggravated’ was not. There were also serious deficiencies in the crash investigation.

On 2 April 2018, there was a car crash in Northland which killed two people. The crash occurred in the southbound lane, between a Subaru travelling south and a Toyota travelling north. The driver of the Subaru, Mr Z, and his front passenger died, and two other passengers were seriously injured. The driver of the Toyota, Mr V, and his passenger were injured. Police determined that Mr V, a North American tourist, had caused the crash as his car was found to be in the wrong lane at the crash scene. Police charged Mr V with two counts of ‘Careless Driving Causing Injury or Death’ a few hours later, to ensure that he remained in the country while the investigation was completed. The Authority found this decision to be justified.

Police then escalated the charges against Mr V to five counts of ‘Aggravated Careless Driving Causing Injury or Death’. The Authority found that Police did not have an evidential basis to escalate the charges.

The Authority found that, due to the Police Serious Crash Analyst viewing the cause of the crash as “clear cut”, the serious crash investigation was not sufficiently thorough.

The Police’s case relied heavily on the statement of one of the surviving Subaru passengers, Mr X. Mr X said that Mr V was on their side of the road, heading towards them, before they crashed. The other surviving passenger of that car, Mr W, said he did not remember the impact. The Authority found that these statements were not sufficiently detailed, or fact-checked appropriately.

Mr V applied for his charges to be dismissed. Four days before the hearing, Mr V’s lawyers submitted new statements from the Subaru passengers, Mr X and Mr W, and argued that it was the driver of the Subaru, Mr Z, who caused the crash due to his alleged suicidal state, and impairment from alcohol and drugs.

Given the new statements of Mr X and Mr W, the Judge found there was insufficient evidence for the case to go to trial, and the five charges against Mr V were dismissed.

The Authority acknowledges the resourcing constraints faced by rural Police stations such as those in Northland, including the limited access to training and supervision (which is highlighted in our thematic review of “Policing in Small Communities”). However, despite the inherent constraints of working in a rural station, the onus was on the officer in charge of the investigation to seek assistance when he recognised the job was beyond his capabilities.

Final Report

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