Compassionate response after driver's guilty plea

The mother of one of two motorcyclists killed in a Lindis Pass crash on November 26 met the driver responsible yesterday and hugged her after the woman's appearance in the Alexandra District Court.

Chinese tourist Kejia Zheng (20), of Shaoxinl, pleaded guilty to charges of driving carelessly, causing the death of Grant John Roberts and Dennis Michael Pederson and driving carelessly, causing injury to Laura Kate McIntosh and William Vincent Ridley. She will be sentenced today.

Members of Mr Roberts' family, including two of his children, his sisters and his mother, Valmai Crawford, of Geraldine, were in court when Zheng appeared before Judge Stephen O'Driscoll yesterday. Mrs Crawford read out a statement and said the loss of her son had left a void ''which we will never fill'' but his death was as the result of a ''tragic accident that could've happened to anyone''.

Prosecutor Sergeant Ian Collin said Zheng was an exchange student who had been studying in Australia and arrived in New Zealand for a holiday the day before the crash. She rented a Nissan Sunny car and travelled south on the Lindis Pass, while a group of motorcyclists was travelling north at the same time. The road was dry and the weather was fine. During a series of bends, she drifted on to gravel at the side of the road and lost control of the car, which slid sideways across the centre line, colliding with a motorcyclist travelling in the opposite direction, Sgt Collin said. The motorcyclist was pushed into the steel barrier.

The car then moved into the path of a second motorcyclist, who braked hard and the motorbike crashed on its side. Both Mr Pederson and Mr Roberts were thrown several metres, landing on grass. Both died at the scene.

Laura McIntosh, a pillion passenger, was also thrown several metres, received serious injuries and remained in Dunedin Hospital, Sgt Collin said. Another motorcyclist, William Ridley, received leg injuries and was treated by ambulance staff. Zheng had little recent driving experience but there was no evidence of excessive speed and the motorcyclists had not contributed to the crash in any way, he said.

Mr Ridley was being interviewed for a victim impact report yesterday and there was no confirmation yet whether the defendant's insurance would cover the cost of the wrecked motorcycles - valued at $35,000 and $20,000. Defence counsel Tim Cadogan said he believed Zheng's lack of driving experience on southern New Zealand roads was a major factor in the crash. She applied the brakes when she drifted into the gravel and ''tragically at that exact same moment, they were coming the other way''.

The defendant had two tertiary qualifications and had enrolled for the equivalent to a master's degree in Shanghai. She received a fractured skull and a broken hand in the crash and was ''terrified'', believing she would go straight from hospital to jail until the matter was resolved, as that was what would happen in her country.

She had written to the victims, families and met Mr Roberts' family at lunchtime yesterday, to apologise to them.

The family were the ''bravest and most compassionate people I've ever had the privilege of meeting'', Mr Cadogan said.

He submitted a custodial sentence would be inappropriate.

Judge O'Driscoll delayed sentencing until today, so he could consider Mr Ridley's victim impact report and receive confirmation about the vehicle insurance.

Outside court, Mrs Crawford said her son was very much a ''family man'', as well as being passionate about motorbikes, as a member of the Road Knights Motorcycle Club. He was a much loved son, father and grandfather.

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