'I thought I was going to die': Witness describes erratic driving

An Alexandra woman’s driving through the Cromwell Gorge was so erratic a motorist behind her thought someone would die, a court has heard.

Giving evidence at a judge-alone trial in the Alexandra District Court yesterday, the witness said she rang 111 and told the operator the offending driver had to be "drunk, very stoned, or having a medical event".

The driver was Indian national Jincy Palluppetta Varghese, 45, who had immigrated to New Zealand only a month earlier.

Police prosecutor Dan Andrew said Varghese was driving with her husband and son between Cromwell and Alexandra about 7.30pm on June 5 last year when she repeatedly veered across the centre line.

Over the 14km stretch of highway, until she was stopped by police near the Clyde Dam, her driving forced several oncoming vehicles to take evasive action.

The first witness told the court she saw the defendant swerve between the left-hand shoulder and the opposite lane "numerous times", causing several near misses.

"I thought I was going to die, or someone else would."

Forced to follow the defendant’s car because there was nowhere safe to pull over, she switched on her hazard lights to warn other motorists and kept a safe following distance.

The passenger of a vehicle two cars behind the defendant’s said Varghese was travelling "very erratically" at 50kmh-60kmh in a 100kmh zone, often veering into the opposite lane.

"Other vehicles were dodging it — there were numerous close calls.

"I said to my husband I think we’ve got a drunk driver in front of us."

Varghese told the court she was on the way home with her family from a trip to Queenstown, and had taken over the driving from her husband at Cromwell.

Admitting it was the first time she had driven in a 100kmh speed zone in New Zealand, she said she drove at about 70kmh because it was dark and she had earlier seen black ice on the road.

She denied swerving or drifting into the oncoming lane at any point.

Judge David Robinson found a charge of dangerous driving proven, saying Varghese’s evidence was "utterly implausible" given the broadly consistent testimony he had heard from three prosecution witnesses.

Counsel Jacinta Grant asked him not to enter a conviction so an application for a discharge without conviction could be considered.

A conviction would have consequences for the defendant’s visa status, Ms Grant said.

Varghese will be sentenced in October.

— Guy Williams, PIJF court reporter