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Driver found guilty of causing injury through careless driving

Wednesday 20 March 2024 | Written by Losirene Lacanivalu | Published in Court, National


Driver found guilty of causing injury through careless driving

The driver of a tourist bus that crashed in Rarotonga in late December, 2022 has been convicted for careless driving causing injury.

Chad Thomas Hickes’ defence trial ended at the High Court in Avarua, after a jury of 12 assessors found him guilty, returning a unanimous verdict.

He appeared before Chief Justice Patrick Keane who convicted him for carelessly driving a passenger vehicle, a Raro Tours bus, causing bodily injury to a 13-year-old male tourist passenger on the same vehicle on December 28, 2022.

Crown Law prosecutor Lucinda Rishworth in her closing submissions said the issue in this case was clear: the fact that Hickes was driving the bus and the fact that the bus crashed were both agreed upon.

Rishworth said the fact that a 13-year-old boy was injured in the crash was also agreed to, while what was in dispute was what caused the crash.

“Was it caused by Mr Hickes carelessly falling asleep at the wheel? Or was it caused by him taking evasive action to avoid the red car that he sees across his lane?”

Looking at Hickes’ evidence first, she said the jurors heard a lot about a red car that the defendant said he swerved to avoid.

Rishworth said Hickes did tell the police about this red car on the day of the crash, that the car went onto his lane just past the centre line.

She said that in giving evidence in court the defendant said the car drove past the centre line and the alleged red car driver was talking on his phone.

Rishworth said this was something he could have considered telling the police at his first statement

“I suggest that Mr Hickes did not give these important details to the police that day because his explanation about this red car at the time he gave his statement and in his evidence to you is being a complete fabrication,” she said.

Rishworth said the jurors heard the evidence from the passengers on the bus, and a Rarotongan resident who was travelling towards Hickes, and the police officers who attended the scene, but there was no evidence about a red car from anyone other than Hickes himself.

She reiterated that they can be sure the bus crash was caused by Hickes carelessly falling asleep at the wheel.

Looking at the evidence, Rishworth said one of the New Zealand passengers said the bus drifted off to the side of the road and there was no sudden movement or swerve. Another passenger said she started to wonder why the bus was moving to the left into the trees and it was not sudden.

One of the Australian tourists said he called out to Hickes, “what are you doing?”  The court head that Hickes didn’t react or respond.

Rishworth concluded that Hickes did tell one of the passengers that he had fallen asleep and that no one else saw the red car because there was no red car.

“A driver who has fallen asleep at the wheel has clearly fallen below the standard expected of a competent and prudent driver,” she added.

Defence counsel Norman George who represented Hickes said that the witnesses in the case had a lot of bitterness and the jurors were to treat the Crown’s evidence as suspicious and a lie.

“The Crown says that Mr Hickes was asleep at the steering wheel of the minibus. Where’s the evidence? It’s all based on what the passengers thought instead.”

George questioned: “Where is the evidence that he had fallen asleep?”

The defence lawyer added the incident happened two years ago. He said his client Hickes drove a Raro Tours passenger minibus on that morning, December 28, 2022, approximately 11am.

George said Hickes drove east to west where he uplifted the first five passengers from the Pacific Resort and later two from Little Polynesian before heading to the airport at 45 kilometres per hour.

He said at the bend near Vaiana’s Bar & Bistro in Nikao, according to his client, a red or maroon Nissan was travelling in the opposite direction towards Arorangi and came onto his lane at a speed.

George said that this was when Hickes decided to turn slowly to the left side of the road to avoid the red car.

He said that this was the conduct of an experienced bus driver: calm and without panicking.

George said the bus was drifting to the left and that might have led some of the passengers to think he was asleep.

He told the jurors that Hickes did look through the side mirror, and he never expected a motorbike to be parked on the side.

George said his client also didn’t expect the trees covered in leaves to have some large trunks growing from them.

“And that, members of the jury, is a movement of the traffic.”

George said Hickes successfully avoided a serious accident with that car, saved the life of that driver who could have plunged into his minibus and killed himself.

“He was a careful driver. He was mindful of his passengers.”

Chief Justice Keane ordered that a presentence report be prepared and a date for sentencing to be set by the court registrar.