Whangārei road worker sentenced for careless driving that killed young motorcyclist on Tutukaka road

A road worker who killed a motorcyclist when he overtook another truck on a winding coastal road has been sentenced in the Whangārei District Court

A Whangārei road worker who killed a motorcyclist when he overtook another truck on a winding road has been sentenced to community detention and community work, and disqualified from driving.

Jerome Tuaumu appeared in Whangārei District Court on Tuesday for sentencing before Judge Taryn Bayley after earlier pleading guilty to careless driving causing the death of Cale Bucknell-Pukeroa.

Bucknell-Pukeroa, 23, died at the scene of the crash, on Matapouri Rd, Tutukaka, around 1.20pm on April 1, last year.

Tuaumu, a road worker for Fulton Hogan, was driving his company truck that was towing a trailer, behind a pilot vehicle and a road sweeper in a convoy on Matapouri Rd that day when he decided to overtake both vehicles. The road sweeper was only capable of doing around 15km/h so it was a slow overtaking manoeuvre, the court heard.

However, as Tuaumu was coming back into his lane approaching a bend Bucknell-Pukeroa came around the bend on his motorcycle and seeing the truck in front of him lost control. He hit the side of Tuaumu’s truck.

There were emotional and angry scenes in the courtroom for the sentencing as some members of Bucknell-Pukeroa’s whānau and friends abused Tuaumu in the dock and his supporters in the back of the court and Judge Bayley had to warn people several times that the behaviour would not be tolerated.

While giving emotional victim impact statements, the grief and anger at the family’s tragic loss were palpable but the judge said the court process had to be treated with respect and any further outbursts would see people ejected and the court possibly closed to the public.

They spoke of a much-loved brother, son, uncle and friend who would leave a huge gap that would be felt forever.

Bucknell-Pukeroa’s father spoke of the incredible loss he and the whānau had suffered, saying his son was a great person.

He said the fact his son was taken due to a decision by Tuaumu to overtake when he shouldn’t have really hurt.

As Bucknell-Pukeroa’s mother was giving her emotional harm statement she approached the dock where Tuaumu was, calling him cowardly, sparking intervention from police and court security officers who prevented her from reaching the dock. The mother said she wanted Tuaumu to look her in the eyes and say something to her.

This sparked further conflict and prompted the judge to again leave the courtroom and led to many of Bucknell-Pukeroa’s supporters later being removed from the court or leaving voluntarily.

Judge Bayley said it was clear that Bucknell-Pukeroa was a much-loved member of his whānau and his tragic death would have a lifelong impact on them but she could not have the court disrupted by such behaviour.

In another victim impact statement read to the court, a whānau member described how Bucknell-Pukeroa’s death had shattered them.

She said that in the 20 months since the crash neither Tuaumu, his family and his employer, Fulton Hogan, had been in touch with them to say sorry.

She said Bucknell-Pukeroa’s death had left a tremendous void that would never be filled.

Tuaumu’s lawyer James Cairney said his client’s carelessness on the day in question was towards the low to moderate range, albeit carelessness that led to horrible consequences.

Cairney said a probation report recommended a sentence of a discharge without conviction but Tuaumu did not think that was appropriate. Instead, the lawyer said a community-based sentence, coupled with reparation, would be appropriate.

He said Tuaumu had been badly affected by Bucknell-Pukeroa’s death and his role in it. He had suffered anxiety and depression since then, compounded by his existing heart condition.

Cairney said Tuaumu had wanted to have a restorative justice meeting with Bucknell-Pukeroa’s whānau but due to threats allegedly made to him, this was not possible.

He said Tuaumu was a valued worker and family man and the events of that day would haunt him forever too.

He said Tuaumu had shown genuine remorse for his actions and Bucknell-Pukeroa’s death, which was highlighted by his early guilty plea which came before a trial date had been set and a letter he wrote to the court.

He was also willing to pay $5000 in emotional harm reparations.

Cairney said Tuaumu hoped that Bucknell-Pukeroa’s family could one day get past their hatred towards him and forgive him for an accident “he wishes had never happened”.

Judge Bayley said any sentence in a case such as this would never satisfy everybody but Tuaumu’s level of culpability meant she had to impose a sentence that denounced his behaviour and deterred others.

She said it was clear that Bucknell-Pukeroa understandably lost control of his motorbike after rounding the bend and seeing Tuaumu’s truck in his path, then fishtailed before hitting the truck.

The judge said there was simply not enough room for Tuaumu to complete his overtaking manoeuvre and he should have known there was a real risk of somebody coming around the corner as he was doing it. That decision led to tragic consequences and left a young man dead.

She said Tuaumu’s level of carelessness was moderate to high.

“This accident was completely avoidable,” Judge Bayley said.

She said Tuaumu deserved credit and a discount for his early guilty plea. She sentenced him to three months community detention, 100 hours community work and ordered he pay $5000 in emotional harm reparation to Bucknell-Pukeroa’s family. She also disqualified him from driving for 12 months.

The judge said it was up to Bucknell-Pukeroa’s whānau whether to accept the reparation.

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