Fatal crash: Teen driver allegedly on learner licence; set to appear in court

Police had been investigating illegal street racing in Fernside before the car fled the scene and...
Police had been investigating illegal street racing in Fernside before the car fled the scene and crashed in Rangiora, killing 18-year-old Zara Mitchell. Photo: NZ Herald/Supplied
An 18-year-old charged with dangerous driving causing the death of a teen in North Canterbury is also charged with being an unaccompanied learner driver.

Police were called to a report of illegal street racing activity in Fernside, North Canterbury just before 4.45am on Sunday.

Canterbury rural area commander Inspector Peter Cooper earlier said the car fled the scene and police pursued the vehicle for a time but stopped "due to the manner of driving and the urban environment".

The car was found shortly after, crashed into the side of a home on McIvor Place in Rangiora after hitting a tree.

One of the four passengers in the vehicle, Zara Mitchell, died at the scene.

An 18-year-old man is set to appear in the Christchurch District Court today on charges of dangerous driving causing death, failing to stop, and other driving-related charges.

Court documents further allege the teen was an unaccompanied learner driver.

Among the passengers in the car was Zara’s boyfriend of two-and-a-half years.

The 16-year-old’s mother, who the Herald has agreed not to name, received a message from a friend about 7.50am on Sunday saying they had heard there had been a crash and that the woman’s son was in the car and his girlfriend Zara was dead.

The mother said she was "in disbelief", and began to receive other messages and phone calls shortly after. The pair then went to the police station to pick up her son.

She believed the group of friends were not racing but had been to a "boy racer meet-up.

"It’s where a whole lot of people, car enthusiasts, they go out, they show off their cars and do that kind of stuff.

The car crashed into a tree and then a house on McIvor Place in Rangiora. Photo: George Heard
The car crashed into a tree and then a house on McIvor Place in Rangiora. Photo: George Heard
She said her son, who was in the backseat of the car, was "absolutely broken", and was not opening up much at this stage.

"All he could say was ‘I tried to help her’," she said.

"He just keeps saying that he’s alone now, he’s on his own."

Her son had spent Sunday afternoon with Zara’s mother. The pair were "each other’s first love," his mother said.

"She came around when he was 14 and just turned his whole life around. She got him on track."

She said there were plenty of rumours being spread about what happened.

"At the end of the day the only ones that actually know what happened were the ones in the car," she said.

"They’re not these kids that go out and do ram raids, they’re not these kids that go out and do stupid s… they went out one night and hung out with their mates and it turned into this."

She said Zara’s parents were "beside themselves".

The 16-year-old’s mother posted a tribute to Zara on her Facebook page on Sunday.

"No words can express this tragedy we are going through losing someone so close.

"Someone that was part of the family, someone I classed as a daughter, my kids’ big sister, my son’s real true love."

She said the teen "brought light into everyone’s worlds.

"Even if it was just coming into my house to steal snacks, to the long talks and sleepovers we would have, you gave my girls a big sister to look up to.

"You showed my son what it was really like to feel love and give love. You were helping him get on the right foot in life. You had so many big dreams we used to talk about working you towards.

"I’ve shed so many tears for you and I’m sure I’ll shed more, but I can just hear your little voice saying ‘oh you’ll be OK’."

On Sunday, Zara’s parents posted photos of their beloved daughter on social media.

"Rest in love my beautiful girl," her mother posted.

Givealittle page has been created for Zara’s family

Zara Mitchell, 18, was killed in a crash in Rangiora on Sunday morning. An 18-year-old male has...
Zara Mitchell, 18, was killed in a crash in Rangiora on Sunday morning. An 18-year-old male has been charged with dangerous driving causing death. Photo: Facebook
Cooper told the New Zealand Herald the teen’s family were devastated.

"This is the result of illegal street racing at night."

‘It was a mess’

The owner of the home, Barry, told the Herald he woke up after hearing a crash and breaking glass.

He went to investigate, thinking someone could be breaking into his house.

"I came out here to the lounge and there was a big chunk of wood that had gone right through the window with glass all through the lounge.

"The guys were yelling out they wanted the police, so I rang the police and the ambulance turned up as well.

"Unfortunately, the young girl passed away."

The passengers of the car were across the road yelling, Barry said.

"When I came out here I couldn’t believe it. It was a mess."

He said a sleeper at the front of his house stopped the car from going into his lounge.

"I would say he was going at a hell of a pace, the only thing that stopped him going right through to my lounge was the sleeper, the back wheel hit that and it stopped him, otherwise he would’ve kept going."

The police were on the scene within 30 seconds of calling, he said.

Asked if he had any issues with boy racers down his street, he said they hear them in the mornings sometimes.

He believed the rest of the group were "all reasonably young kids".

"It’s just a sad day for some family."

Photos from the scene show the mangled wreck of the vehicle crashed in the front garden of a home near a large tree.

A pink sticker, ordering the car off the road, can be seen affixed to the car’s windscreen.

Several investigations will now take place, including inquiries by the Serious Crash Unit and the Independent Police Conduct Authority.

By Sam Sherwood