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‘These are horrible cases to deal with’: judge

A moment of carelessness led to the death of Russell Grant when his moped ploughed into the rear of a truck trailer parked at night without lights.

A rear parking light was not working on the trailer and the defendant — who was also a friend of the man who died — had not checked it.

Frederick Donald Matete, 50, pleaded guilty in Gisborne District Court to careless driving (by omission) causing death, and Judge Robert Spear sentenced him to four months of community detention, with an 8pm-6am curfew. Matete was also disqualified from holding a driving licence for 12 months. The judge recognised that would affect Matete’s employment, but said it was appropriate.

The judge expressed surprise that a restorative justice process had not been initiated, and adjourned the case briefly to discuss whether the victim’s family wished to be involved in one. Counsel for Matete, Leighvi Maynard, told the court a decision had been made not to refer the case to restorative justice, but that Matete was open to it if there was any benefit.

Mr Maynard said Matete had taken responsibility for what had occurred, had acknowledged Mr Grant’s family’s pain and acknowledged that he had done a stupid, careless thing.

Claire Stewart, for the police, told the court Mr Grant’s family did not want the restorative justice process, and the judge said he was sure nobody wanted the matter delayed further.

The court heard harrowing victim impact statements from Mr Grant’s family, who said Mr Grant was a wonderful man who “did not deserve any of this” and that their pain would never heal.

At 10pm on Saturday, March 27 last year, Matete parked his truck and trailer in Anzac Street. He had worked a 12-hour shift, taking a load to Wairoa and returning the vehicle to Gisborne, after being called in to cover for another driver. Truck and trailer units are required to have a rear-facing light when parked, and Matete did not check whether the light was functioning.

The vehicle was not the usual one he used and belonged to a Cedenco subcontractor. The truck had recently been issued with a code of compliance and was certified fit to be on the road.

The deceased finished his shift, also at Cedenco, and was heading home on his motor scooter. He crashed into the trailer and died from his injuries.

Cedenco had paid for Mr Grant’s funeral service, and representatives had attended and met with his family. Matete had also arranged for a service to be held after the accident.

When police asked Matete to turn on the night light on the trailer, it was found the light was not working.

“These are horrible cases to have to deal with. The consequences for both the deceased and the defendant will be consequential and long-lasting,” the judge said.

“I also recognise that you have worked with the deceased both at Cedenco and previously on rubbish trucks. You counted him as a friend, and you knew him well, so you will also be suffering loss.

“You had not been rostered to work, but had been asked to fill in for another driver. It was not a truck you normally used. It’s a matter of concern that the truck did not have a rear-facing light. I do not know enough about the responsibility of the subcontractor or Cedenco. Unfortunately you are the one standing here by yourself having to carry that.”

Counsel acknowledged a momentary lapse in concentration, and submitted that a starting point of four to six months of community detention could be adopted by the court, which was also what the police considered appropriate.

The judge recognised that Matete had a clean record. He expressed the sympathy of the court to the family of the deceased.

“What’s important to keep in mind is the offending relates to carelessness,” the judge said.

“No one is perfect, people make mistakes, to err is human, and there but for the grace of God go many people when using a motor vehicle. Tragically, accidents do happen, and regrettably it is one that could have been avoided if the defendant had complied with his obligations as the operator of a heavy motor vehicle.”