The family watched in tears as the man responsible for what is being called the ‘worst car crash in the country’, was sentenced for his crime.
Ngati-Tane Vano, 27, from Arorangi, was sentenced to seven years in prison. He was charged with dangerous driving causing the deaths of William Paerau, Danny Tepai and Moeau Rau.
Before the sentencing hearing began, Justice Colin Doherty had everyone present stand for a moment of silence as a mark of respect for the three victims.
“Before we commence, we must remember that what we are about to do today won’t bring back the three young men who were killed,” he said.
In the early hours of the morning on July 7 2013, Vano was driving his three friends and another passenger from Avarua to Arorangi.
Vano was reportedly driving at speeds of up to 100 kmh, and later admitted in court to driving at least 80 kmh
Vano was driving a turbocharged vehicle without an up-to-date warrant of fitness, and was driving without a current licence.
When driving around the airport exit at Nikao, one of the passengers asked Vano to slow down and stop driving.
However, Vano continued driving and overtook a rental car being driven by a tourist, who later described it as a complete passing manoeuvre at an estimated speed of more than 60 miles an hour, equivalent to 96 kmh.
As Vano was pulling back onto the correct side of the road, he lost control and drifted 100m across the road, going through a fence and hitting a hibiscus tree and a coconut tree where Vaiana’s Bar now is.
All passengers were thrown from the vehicle and three died at the scene from head injuries.
Police later found a tyre which had drifted 30m away into the water.
The tow truck driver who came to collect the vehicle said it was the worst smash he had seen in all his years.
Vano was later found with a blood alcohol limit of 170 mg per 100 mll of blood, more than twice the legal limit.
Compared with Vano, the driver, the four passengers of the vehicle were found to have very low levels of alcohol in their system.
Prosecutor for the Crown, Cheryl McCarthy told the court that it was one of the worst cases of dangerous driving causing death in the Cook Islands.
She said the starting point for sentencing should be at the maximum of eight years in prison.
Taking into account the aggravating factors including speed, alcohol and his deflection of blame, McCarthy asked that Vano be sentenced at the maximum, with minimum discount for his guilty plea.
“He still maintains that he was not the sole person to blame for the accident,” McCarthy said.
She also submitted that Vano be disqualified from driving for three years upon his release from prison.
Defence lawyer, Norman George echoed the submission from prosecution, saying the tragic accident is one of the worst experienced in the history of the Cook Islands.
George said the defendant had deep remorse and regret for the relatives of the three deceased men.
He added that Vano wanted to see the parents to express his remorse, but was dissuaded from doing so with threats against him.
George said on the night of the accident, nothing of this kind was expected as they travelled home to Arorangi.
“The defendant remains his driving was interfered with by another passenger,” George said.
He added that the defendant accepts that he will get a term in prison and that when he was arrested on July 10th, he willingly chose to remain in police custody out of respect for the families.
George quoted Vano as saying “It is okay, I can go home. But my three friends never will.”
George recommended he be sentenced between three and five years in prison, but no more.
Justice Doherty said one of the mothers wondered why Vano never approached them to apologise.
“They have no animosity, just the emptiness of no children, and no grandchildren,” he said.
Justice Doherty added that an apology to the family would have reduced his sentence considerably.
“It is hard to find any remorse. I didn’t see a flicker of emotion when you gave evidence,” he said.
Justice Doherty went on to say that the need to deter others from similar incidents, and the extensive list of aggravating features, outweighed Vano’s personal experience.
Vano was given a sentence discount of three months for his time served on remand following his arrest, and nine months for his late guilty plea.
He was subsequently sentenced to seven years in prison and disqualified from driving for three years upon release.
Justice Doherty also wanted to send a clear message to the community that road safety is very important.