Another day, another tragedy. Young lives just thrown away.

Unfortunately it’s happened again, I guess you could just say ‘well it’s THIS week’s bad car crash’.

Down Dunedin way, about 3am on Sunday morning 18 May 2014 a horrific crash occurred on the Southern motorway.

Although police investigations are ongoing, it seems that a modified Honda Integra car had been travelling at 180 kmh (almost double the 100 kmh speed limit). NOTE: please see update at bottom of this article.

The five young people in the car had been attending a party. Police have said alcohol was a factor in the crash.

Three teenage girls were sitting in the back seat. All three had apparently chosen NOT to wear their seatbelts.

Danielle Kiriau, 17, was killed, and her friends Courtney Donald, 17, and Caitlin Adams, 16, were injured.

Shannon James Kiriau, 22, brother to Danielle, was sitting in the front passenger seat and was also killed in the crash.

The driver of the car was Cameron Presland. The 20-year-old suffered major injuries.

Mercifully, Caitlin Adams’ injuries were the least of all. She managed to call her mother from the crash site and after being treated in hospital was released to go home later that same day.

In the initial aftermath of the crash, there was confusion about which of the girls had died at the scene and which had survived with injuries. This mix-up was later sorted out at the hospital but undoubtedly caused extra upset to the parents. Police have apologised, but to be fair, their job is extremely difficult especially in the case of a major crash in a car with multiple occupants.

Much has been made in the mainstream media about how the car was “unroadworthy” because it had not passed New Zealand’s 6-monthly Warrant of Fitness inspection since 2012.

Sorry but I have a small problem with that. The car may have had bald tyres and faulty brakes (that would certainly be “unroadworthy” and increase the chances of a crash occurring), but it may have been below WOF standard because the horn didn’t work and one of its five brake-lamp bulbs was blown. Defects like that would not have had ANY effect on the car being liable to crash last Sunday morning.

The car also had an non-approved modification. It had a turbocharger fitted (originally this model had either no turbocharger fitted or a smaller approved turbocharger installed). Sometimes car enthusiasts install (larger) turbochargers to increase the performance available.

Keep in mind a turbocharged car doesn’t HAVE to travel at 180 kmh. It can cruise very nicely at 25 kmh or 50 kmh, or 100 kmh.

Turbocharged or not, it’s the driver’s right foot pushing down on the gas pedal that regulates the car’s speed.

The Fairfax/Stuff news website (associated with the Christchurch Press) has given quite detailed coverage of this tragic event, over the last few days. (Note: Joe Howey is a friend of the driver Cameron Presland and visited him in hospital). Here’s a short quote.

“…Presland was protective of Danielle, Howey said. The couple had dated for 2 years and were in love, he said.

“They were pretty crazy about each other . . . He’s just devastated. He can’t believe it.”

Presland was told in hospital on Sunday afternoon that she was dead.

“It’s really sad. He’s a mess.” (quote ends)

Sorry but if someone gets as pissed as a chook, and then gets in a car driving at night at almost double the speed limit, while your girlfriend’s in the back seat WITHOUT wearing her seatbelt… I’m sorry you are NOT “protecting” them at all.

If the driver was really “protecting” the girl (who he supposedly loved), then he would not have commenced his journey until all passengers had their seatbelts on, he would be driving sober and within the speed limit. Even if the car had had a larger than approved turbocharger fitted, or if the horn or one brake-lamp was defective and the car had not passed a WOF since 2012 , everyone in the car would have gotten safely to their destination that night. No injuries and no incurred costs of, what’s probably hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars of expenses to be borne by the taxpayer.

Also “He’s a mess.” Well the girl and her bro’s not doing too blimmin’ good either mate. They’re wooden box material now.

(another quote) “…The dead siblings’ parents, Nai Kiriau and Beverley De Blecourt, said they did not want to play the “blame game” towards Presland…”

Umm, methinks they SHOULD be playing the blame game, at least a bit. It’s true that nothing can bring back those tragically killed, but the driver needs to take responsibility for his actions.

Car accidents can happen at any time. Even a well maintained car with an up to date WOF can suffer mechanical or tyre defects and that may lead to a crash. Over the years, I’ve had a handful of tyres just blow out instantaneously with no warning and I’ve even had cars where entire stub axles snapped off so I lost not only the wheel but the entire hub as well, resulting in almost total loss of control (fortunately those events happened at very low “parking” speeds and my car simply ground to a halt).

Some accidents do “just happen”. But in this recent tragedy no other vehicles were involved and as far as we know, the car did not suffer a catastrophic mechanical failure (like a broken axle) precipitating the crash.

The driver simply “lost it” on a gentle bend and the car spun out hitting a pole and a tree. (Investigations are undoubtedly continuing, but I think it’s a fair guess that the pole and the tree were not “at fault”).

I will not let passengers ride in my car UNLESS they are wearing a seatbelt. I am very upset if as a passenger, whoever’s driving me, starts off before I have my seatbelt fastened. I only drive when 100% sober (ie NOT “just a little bit drunk”, like the law does allow) and I consider posted speed limits to be the MAXIMUM speed one can drive at (not the minimum speed for that stretch of road).

It is hard to imagine the grief the parents of the dead siblings feel, and to lose a son and a daughter at the same time… words just cannot express. There will be mourning too amongst the greater family/whanau, school friends and work colleagues, the list is almost endless.

Three people survived the crash and some of their injuries may be lifelong and permanent. Fortunately on their side they have youth. People in their teens and twenties have a phenomenal ability for physical healing. In New Zealand we are blessed with a First World hospital system. Various rehabilitation therapies will be available.

I wish the three young survivors the best in their recovery. But the driver should feel the burden of having taken the lives of two young people in their prime of life.

And on a purely practical level, the guy’s new car, his pride and joy one assumes, is now a twisted wreck, so munted it’s not even worth stripping for parts.

If he’d driven more sensibly he could have restored the car to legal roadworthy condition, (may have required getting the turbocharger certified) renewed the WOF and enjoyed many years using it to drive himself and his friends around safely, going to the beach, parties, whatever. And then when he did want to go for a bit of a blatt, he could have taken it to one of the race circuits around during one of their public track days (here in Christchurch we have Ruapuna, I am guessing there’s something similar down Dunedin way).

Dunedin and New Zealand are now the poorer, for the loss of two healthy young people who could have gone on to do their bit in society. There is nothing any of us can do that will bring them back. But can we all do our best to make them the last young people, whose lives have been thrown away so cheaply.

Here is a link to one of the recent articles on the Stuff website.

UPDATE… One of those to survive the crash, Caitlin Adams is now recovering at home and has been quoted as saying that the steering wheel appeared to lock-up just prior to the crash. Further, she says the driver was NOT travelling at anything like 180 kmh and that although the driver had had 2 or 3 drinks that evening, he wasn’t drunk. The driver Cameron Presland had swapped his registered and WOF and modification-complianced van for the car just 2 days earlier. He’d been told the Honda car was safe and roadworthy. Caitlin Adams said she normally didn’t wear her seatbelt.

There is perhaps a warning here that others can heed. Often a vehicle can be bought for a bargain price, but the car needs some fixing up to be reliable, safe and to comply with various legal requirements (such as a WOF inspection or modification certifications). That’s all fine and dandy, as long as people, the buyer, are aware that the car needs repairs before being used on the road. If you are buying (or obtaining through a swap etc) a car that does not have a current WOF and registration then people should be very careful. If someone wants to sell you a car without a WOF and tells you “Oh it’s all safe, it will pass a WOF test, it just needs… blah blah” then potential buyers should take those statements with a very large pinch of salt.

When I bought my last car, although it had a current WOF, I insisted on a brand new WOF inspection and that it be conducted at my choice of VTNZ testing station. If a seller refuses to pay $40 for a test, to confirm the sale of a car, you’d be right to be suspicious about what else they’re trying to hide.

Here’s a link to the Stuff website’s later article.


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