Northland fatal crash: Campervan driver sentenced after motorcyclist killed

Elderly motorist Allan Walker had driven through the SH1 intersection on his way home to Ruakākā thousands of times before without any incident.

But a nano-second of carelessness one evening last April resulted in a catastrophic mistake when he failed to see motorcyclist Shane Harnett coming towards him.

The 58-year-old experienced rider, much-loved family man and volunteer firefighter from the Coromandel Peninsula, had no time to take evasive action when Walker turned from the State Highway onto Marsden Point Rd.

Ploughing into the side of Walker’s Ford Transit Campervan, Harnett was catapulted 24 metres down the road, while his motorcycle stayed wedged under the van.

Walker’s sentencing at Whangārei District Court today for the fatal crash on April 15, last year, was one of the kinds that police sergeant Stu Wilkes describes as “extremely difficult”.There were no winners in these types of cases, which were tragic for everyone involved, he said.

This was not a case of, perhaps, a young teenager high on drugs and alcohol playing “silly buggers” in a car. This was an 85-year-old man whose only previous traffic offence was for driving in excess of 50km back in 2000.

Had Walker waited for a nano-second more or less at the intersection, the collision would not have happened, Wilkes said.

While the consequences were huge, police considered Walker’s criminal culpability was best represented by a charge of careless driving causing death.

The charge, which is the lowest for deaths caused by driving, carries maximum penalties of up to three months’ imprisonment or a fine of $4500, with a minimum mandatory driver disqualification of six months.

Counsel Braden Harris submitted the outcome could be a conviction and discharge, or an order to come up if called upon, coupled with a $5000 emotional harm repayment.

Walker re-mortgaged his house in order to make the payment, Harris said.

Disqualification would be significant in itself, given Walker lives relatively remotely without the assistance of another driver. He would no longer be able to attend previous activities such as the RSA or campervan rallies, although what his campervan once meant to him was forever tarnished by what happened.

Walker was a loving, kind-hearted, family man who had worked all his life and never put a foot wrong. This one-off incident had led to something with tragic consequences that no one would forget, Harris said.

Judge John McDonald viewed Walker’s offending more seriously.

The judge said he knew that part of SH1 well. It was a straight section of road with unimpeded visibility.

There was no reason why at that time of day – 6pm – if he had properly looked, Walker would not have seen any type of vehicle coming towards him.

Accidents were unavoidable and out of anyone’s control. This was no accident, the judge said.

If Walker had taken a little more time, a little more care in being a prudent driver he could have avoided killing Harnett, whose death was catastrophic for his family, the judge said.

Some of Harnett’s family attended the sentencing via audio-visual link. The judge said he had no doubt the death of their son, brother, father, and uncle was as raw today as it was when it happened. Nothing he could say or do would lessen the pain of their loss but it was foremost in his mind during this sentencing.

He explained the process to them, including that he had no say in the level of charge laid by police – it was solely their premise- and he must sentence accordingly.

The judge said a conviction and discharge would be an insufficient penalty, as would an even lesser good behaviour bond-type sentence.

There needed to be something, however minor, so the victims could see Walker giving something back. Even at his age, he could do community work, albeit light duties.

The judge imposed 50 hours of work, ordered the $5000 reparation, and disqualified Walker from driving for nine months.

He also wanted police to consider having Walker’s licence permanently revoked.

In their victim impact statements, Harnett’s family expressed concern it had taken six months for Walker to plead guilty. Harris assured them Walker never suggested Harnett somehow contributed to the crash.

The delay was because of a change of counsel, Walker’s need to come to terms with what he faced, and Covid restrictions, Harris said.

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