Van owner admits endangering life

Thalia Newport died when a van rolled near Winton early on Sunday. Photo: Givealittle
Thalia Newport Photo: Givealittle
The owner of a modified van which crashed, resulting in the death of an Invercargill woman has pleaded guilty to a charge of endangering life by criminal nuisance.

Joshua William Leitch (21) appeared in the Invercargill District Court yesterday, where he admitted playing a part in the crash which killed Thalia Jayden Newport (20) in Winton on February 16 this year.

The summary of facts stated the van had been designed to have three seats in the front, all with seat belts.

When Leitch bought the van in July 2019, it had a number of uncertified modifications including a bench seat in the rear, no accompanying seat belts and suspension modifications.

However, despite the modifications, police said it was unclear what caused the van to crash.

In February, Leitch and a group of eight people decided to travel to Queenstown.

On their return to Invercargill about 4.30am the next day, the driver, Aaron James Collinson, exited the Winton township.

A short time later, while negotiating a slight left bend, the vehicle drifted across the fog line and into the water table ditch on the side of the road, causing the van to flip and roll about six times before coming to a stop.

The driver and a passenger remained in the van secured by the seat belt, but the other seven occupants of the car — including Leitch — were all thrown from it at various locations.

During the rolling, the front uncertified bench seat in the rear became dislodged, and began rolling.

Miss Newport was thrown from the van and her body became trapped under the vehicle on the driver’s side. She died at the scene.

During the court hearing yesterday, Judge Russell Walker took note of Leitch’s guilty plea but adjourned the matter until he attended the Right Track programme — a course designed to show dangerous drivers the possible repercussions of their actions to prevent them from reoffending.

Judge Walker also suggested the man complete 150 hours of voluntary community work until his appearance for sentencing, which was yet to be scheduled.

A nominal date was set for November 30, when counsel Tanya McCullum will update the judge on Leitch’s progress.

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