Blenheim man died in crash after chasing his stolen Mercedes

Allister Christie of Blenheim and inset of Kyle Clarke who is on trial. Photos: NZME picture...
Allister Christie of Blenheim and inset of Kyle Clarke who is on trial. Photos: NZME picture supplied by family
When Allister Christie spotted his stolen Mercedes being driven by another man he decided to give chase - but soon after both men ended up in a river after a high-speed crash.

While Kyle James Clarke, managed to escape from the stolen Mercedes and swim to safety, Christie wasn’t so fortunate.

It wasn’t until the next day that the 70-year-old’s body was found submerged inside the car he had been driving.

Now Clarke is on trial, accused of driving in a manner that led to Christie’s death in Blenheim.

The 31-year-old has admitted entering Christie’s home, taking the keys and then taking the Mercedes on March 12, 2022, but has denied charges linked to the circumstances in which Christie died the following day.

Clarke appeared in the Blenheim District Court yesterday for the start of a judge-alone trial, in which he is defending charges of reckless driving causing death, dangerous driving causing death (in the alternative) and failing to stop to ascertain injury or death.

The hearing began with a waiata and acknowledgement from Judge Jo Rielly of Christie’s sudden and tragic death.

Crown prosecutor Jackson Webber said a primary trial issue was likely to be whether Clarke’s alleged high-speed and reckless driving caused Christie’s death.

“The Crown’s position is that there is no dispute that Mr Christie was chasing Mr Clarke who was in a stolen blue car and that Mr Christie was wanting to get that back.”

The defence case is focused on causative events and the moments leading up to the collision, and whether the cause of Christie’s tragic death was speed, which was “exponentially different in character” to his driving up to that point.

Defence lawyer Tony Bamford said his case would also explore whether Christie’s death might have been from a medical event, and that he appeared not to have been wearing a seatbelt at the time of the crash.

The stolen car

Christie’s wife, Heather, described him in her evidence as a peaceful man and if he had seen his stolen car he would have wanted to sort out who had done it, and given them a “telling off”.

Webber said that around 8am on March 12, a Saturday, Clarke entered the Christies’ Blenheim home through a partially open side door which Allister had left ajar for the family dog while he went to work. Heather was upstairs in bed.

Clarke took items from the house including a set of car keys to their blue Mercedes Benz and then drove off in it.

Allister Christie died in a vehicle accident in March 2022.
Allister Christie died in a vehicle accident in March 2022.
He was seen by police less than an hour later parked outside a Blenheim address.

The police recognised Clarke and attempted to stop him, but he drove off at speed, overtaking vehicles as he fled, so they did not pursue him.

Christie was advised of the incident later that day and was said to have expressed frustration at what had occurred.

The high-speed chase

About noon the next day, Clarke was seen driving the Mercedes north towards the State Highway 1 roundabout in Blenheim.

He entered the roundabout at the same time as the silver SsangYong driven by Christie.

It was alleged that a high-speed chase ensued throughout inner Blenheim streets which have a 50 km/h speed limit, before Clarke turned hard left on to SH1 and drove over the highway bridge at a speed allegedly close to 130 km/h while passing two vehicles at once.

The area is often busy with traffic and heavy vehicles coming off the Cook Strait ferries from Picton, heading south through Blenheim to Christchurch.

According to witnesses, Clarke continued at speed for a further 2.5km and then, without using the turning bay, he suddenly swerved right into a street while travelling between 60 to 80km/h, into the oncoming lane and over the train tracks.

The way he allegedly drove through an intersection caused significant alarm to others on the road.

One of them was resident Skye Hale, who told the court she’d been driving home from a nearby dairy when she noticed a car “flying out in front of her”, as she approached the left turn off the highway to the street where she lived.

She said the car was going “very fast” and a second car appeared to be chasing the first.

The crash

Clarke allegedly accelerated heavily for a further 3.3km towards the Ōpaoa River at speeds up to 160 km/h.

As Clarke approached a stop bank before the river, described as a “blind hump” drivers were unable to see over until near the top, it’s alleged he planned an evasive manoeuvre in the hope Christie would go past and not see him.

Moments later, Christie came over the stop bank at a speed estimated at more than 120km/h. His vehicle launched into the air and landed on its nose, skidded, and struck the rear of the blue Mercedes, pushing both vehicles into the Ōpaoa River where they were submerged.

The impact was so severe vehicle debris was scattered over a wide area.

Christie’s vehicle was later found in a deep culvert, where oil and fuel leaking from the vehicle had made the water murky.

Hale saw the first car go over the stop bank and the second one which became airborne. She later went to check, but couldn’t see any vehicles.

Christie is believed to have died from the impact of the crash and being immersed in the river.

Clarke was able to get out of the Mercedes through a rear door and swam to the bank before allegedly running from the scene.

Police alleged he did not check on Christie or render any assistance.

Around 4pm, Adrian Ferris was out cycling and noticed two vehicles in the river. He initially thought they had been dumped. He took photos and tried to call the police, but was unable to get through, and carried on with his ride.

Ferris’ neighbour was a police officer, who after hearing what Ferris had seen and seeing the photos he’d taken, alerted staff on duty who went and secured the scene.

By then it was getting dark and police at the scene could see evidence of what had been a high-speed impact, but could not see if anyone was in either car.

It wasn’t until the next morning Christie was found in the submerged vehicle. His body was removed that afternoon and his family notified.

The trial continues.

 - Tracy Neal, Open Justice reporter