Woman killed in Northland crash was five times over the legal limit, not wearing seatbelt

The crash happened on State Highway 1, about 1km south of Okaihau, Northland.


The crash happened on State Highway 1, about 1km south of Okaihau, Northland.

A woman who drove drunk after a party may have survived crashing her car if she’d been wearing a seatbelt.

Aroha Tewhaia Erana Leaf, 26, died in July 2020 on State Highway 1, about 1km south of Ōkaihau, Northland.

According to a just-released decision from Coroner Alison Mills, Leaf had hosted a party which finished about 2.30am, and for reasons which were still unknown, she and a relative decided to go for a drive.

At 6.30am, the relative flagged down two people south of the Waiare Rd turnoff on SH1.

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The relative had a head injury and was in an “incoherent state”, Coroner Mills said.

The relative told the two passers-by there had been an accident and pointed towards a nearby paddock.

In the paddock, they found Leaf’s damaged car, with Leaf lying beside it, unresponsive.

Emergency services declared Leaf dead at the scene.

The surviving relative couldn’t remember how the accident happened, apart from saying she’d been in the front passenger seat.

During an autopsy, it was found Leaf’s blood alcohol level was five times over the legal limit. THC was also detected.

Mills noted Leaf didn’t have a current driver’s licence.

A serious crash investigation found Leaf had failed to keep in control of the car and veered off the road, where the car then tumbled and rolled before landing the in the farm paddock.

New Zealand Transport Agency

Rick Haira, of Hastings, was on his way to a new apprenticeship in 2004 when he drove over a rail line. His ute was clipped by a train as he drove over the tracks, and he spun out of control into a transformer box. His seatbelt kept him from being thrown from the vehicle.

It was unknown why the car left the road, the investigation noted, but it was believed fatigue may have been a factor along with Leaf’s alcohol levels.

The fatigue was indicated due to the time of day, the fact no other cars were involved and it happened on a straight segment of road and there was no evidence of emergency action such as braking being taken, the investigation said.

Mills said neither Leaf nor her passenger were wearing seatbelts when the crash happened.

“The serious crash investigator advised that in his opinion Aroha would probably have survived the accident if she had been wearing a seatbelt.

“Seatbelt advice on the Waka Kotahi New Zealand Transport Agency website states that wearing a seatbelt reduces your chances of being killed or seriously injured in a road crash by 40%.”

Mills also noted many fatal crashes were caused by driver fatigue, which was more than “just feeling tired”.

“It’s a state of physical and mental exhaustion which results in a loss of alertness. This loss of alertness is accompanied by poor judgement, slower reaction time and impaired coordination and decision-making.

“Considerable effort has been made to promote safe driving. Police, coroners, Waka Kotahi and others have consistently highlighted safe driving messages.”

Mills reiterated people shouldn’t drink and drive, or drive when they were tired, and should always wear a seatbelt.

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