New Zealanders blame intersection in death

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The intersection in New Zealand where a crash claimed the life of a Winnipeg woman was "a problem waiting to happen," say people who live and work nearby.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/02/2012 (3821 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The intersection in New Zealand where a crash claimed the life of a Winnipeg woman was “a problem waiting to happen,” say people who live and work nearby.

Michele Smith, 60, was killed in the camper van her husband, Doug Smith, was driving near the Waitomo Glowworm Caves, south of Auckland.

The co-owners of the Marion Hotel were touring New Zealand with their 24-year-old daughter when the tragedy occurred. The daughter suffered minor injuries in the crash.

CHRISTINE CORNEGE / New Zealand Herald Michele Smith, 60, died in the crash near the Waitomo caves. Her husband, Doug Smith, 62, pleaded guilty Monday to a charge of careless driving.

Their camper van collided with a truck at the turnoff to the caves.

Chris Lord, who owns the nearby Glowworm Motel, said the intersection had been altered and the original traffic islands made bigger.

“This was always a problem waiting to happen. When they did the alteration, they made it a lot more confusing with the island and the road markings,” he told the Waikato Times.

Maude Green, who lives nearby and was one of the first on the scene, said the intersection is a high-risk area and many tourists travelled the road to the Waitomo caves.

“We have lived here for four years and when we hear that bang, we always think (we) know what has happened.

“In four years we have seen three big ones where the helicopter has had to come out, but this is the biggest one.” Green described the 100-km/h speed limit as “a big thing” and was worried tourists were not prepared for negotiating the road.

The truck had been travelling north at the time, but it was unclear whether the camper van had been pulling in to Waitomo Caves Road or doing a U-turn.

Acting road policing manager for Waikato, Jeff Penno, said it’s important all drivers have a good knowledge of the road rules.

“These were tourists to New Zealand. It was just an utter tragedy that that family has been torn apart,” Penno told the Waikato Times.

“Education is the key with foreign tourists in New Zealand,” he said. “Our roading environment is very different to other parts of the world and we actively want to work with rental car agencies and the tourism industry to look at the best way to get messages to foreign drivers. In Canada they don’t drive on the same side of the road… and we do see incidents periodically where we do have that kind of confusion and that’s a reminder to all drivers to be vigilant.”

Smith, 62, pleaded guilty on Monday to a charge of careless driving. His lawyer, Philip Morgan, told the Free Press Smith won’t be allowed to drive for six months and will have to pay court costs of about $130.

“People don’t get sent to jail for this sort of thing in New Zealand,” said Morgan, whose client did not receive the maximum penalty for the offence.

“Normally for sentences like this, some sort of community-based sentence is imposed.”

The New Zealand Herald reported Canadian relatives of the couple were in the courtroom Monday to watch the proceedings. Court heard Smith wanted to get back to Canada to bury his wife, and he’d been the victim of theft before his court appearance. Four mobile phones including an iPhone, a backpack that contained $500 and a set of headphones were stolen from the room he was sharing with relatives.

 

— with files by Carol Sanders

gabrielle.giroday@freepress.mb.ca

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