Family forgive driver over death of 'local identity'

Judith Egerton
Judith Egerton
A Dunedin man whose driving caused the death of a ''local identity'' has avoided conviction because of the unique nature of the case.

Otago Rugby's operations administrator Clinton Wayne Austin (30) was driving his work ute through Dunedin on December 12 last year.

He turned right from Great King St into Dundas St but did not see 77-year-old Judith Mary Egerton, who simultaneously got a pedestrian green light to cross the road.

Austin struck the woman with the right front of his vehicle, knocking her on to her front.

Tragically, his front wheels rolled the victim and he continued over her torso, causing her devastating injuries.

''I didn't see her,'' Austin told police.

''I checked multiple times and she wasn't there. I've replayed it multiple times over in my head, it wasn't until I was a bit further down the road that I noticed someone lying on the ground.''

But what happened in the ensuing moments and months saw the driver forgiven by Miss Egerton's family.

Austin rushed to her side when he saw he had hit her, Judge Michael Crosbie told the Dunedin District Court this week.

He sent her family flowers in the following days and he even attended the woman's funeral.

''Your remorse and distress would seem to be utterly sincere,'' the judge said.

Austin also sat down with Miss Egerton's nephew John Seaton - a representative of the grieving family, which featured five siblings and 27 nieces and nephews - for a restorative-justice conference.

''There are aspects of this matter I regard as unique,'' the judge said.

Mr Seaton said his aunt would not have wanted the tragedy to define the man's life.

Miss Egerton had experienced her own trauma as a 23-year-old teacher in Roxburgh.

In 1963, a freak storm struck when she was tramping with a group of pupils on the Routeburn Track.

She managed to walk out and get help but two 13-year-olds died.

It was something that Miss Egerton carried with her for the rest of her life, her family said, and they did not want Austin to shoulder a similar burden.

They backed the defendant's application for a discharge without conviction and defence counsel Anne Stevens said a black mark against her client's name could be hugely detrimental in the highly competitive field of sports management.

Judge Crosbie said that factor alone was not enough to maintain Austin's clean criminal record. Rather it was a combination of the ''general consequences'' of conviction.

He also noted the phasing of the traffic lights and pedestrian signals had changed since the incident.

Emergency services at the scene after the incident. Photo: Gregor Richardson
Emergency services at the scene after the incident. Photo: Gregor Richardson

''It doesn't excuse your driving but it does somewhat reduce the level of culpability,'' the judge said.

However, NZ Transport Agency system manager Graeme Hall said the changes were not because of the fatal accident.

''The change was made as part of the SH1 separated cycleway changes with additional pedestrian protection at traffic signals along SH1 alongside the new cycleways,'' he said.

It meant the intersection now gave vehicles a red turning arrow while pedestrians crossed.

While some saw a discharge without conviction as ''walking free'', Judge Crosbie said it was clear in Austin's case that was far from the truth.

He sat quietly crying in the dock as the discharge was granted.

The application had been opposed by police and they had also refused Austin diversion.

Though the judge said it was not for him to comment on the diversion scheme, he noted there were crimes which carried a weightier criminal culpability that could result in offenders avoiding the court process.

Austin was ordered to pay reparation of $1000 - to go to LandSAR, at the request of Miss Egerton's family - and banned from driving for six months.

The defendant tearfully embraced members of a large support contingent after the hearing.

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