Normal right turn, road crash accused tells court

Saturday 24 April 2021 | Written by Caleb Fotheringham | Published in Local, National


Normal right turn, road crash accused tells court

The defendant facing a charge of careless driving causing injury has testified that she performed a normal right turn into Friendly Mart in Arorangi

Odette Stanke, who has pleaded not guilty to the charge, was called as a witness yesterday by her defence lawyer Wilkie Rasmussen.

Stanke told the High Court sitting in Rarotonga that she checked for traffic, both oncoming and behind. She had seen the three motorbikes behind her that would eventually all be involved in the accident, but said they were far enough away to not affect her turn, the court heard.

The defendant testified that she slowed in anticipation for a sharp 90-degree turn and indicated before turning.

Stanke told the court that as she did this a motorbike hit the front of her car. Local man Steven Cuthers was the rider of that motorbike and had been called as a prosecution witness on Thursday.

Stanke said Cuthers must have misinterpreted the car slowing down as parking, not a right turn.

She then got out of her car and could see that New Zealand tourists, Lynda Whitehead and Deborah Fahey, had fallen off their scooters, the court heard.

“They were nowhere near my vehicle,” Stanke testified, “they were three to four times the length of my car”.

She told the court the New Zealanders were probably afraid of the crash ahead of them and had applied the brake sharply causing them to skid and fall.

Crown evidence was presented on Thursday by Annabel Maxwell-Scott and Lisa William who claimed the defendant was guilty of the charge.

Four Crown witnesses gave evidence, three of whom were involved in the incident. Two were New Zealand tourists and one was a Cook Islands local.

Both Whitehead and Fahey were severely injured when they fell from their motorbikes, the court heard.

On Thursday during Crown evidence, Fahey said she hit her head hard which resulted in heavy bleeding. Fahey has a permanent scar on her forehead that she said makes her feel self-conscious.

Whitehead said on Thursday she had multiple injuries, the most severe being to her knee. She told the court her knee had required ACL (anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction) surgery in May last year, and that she was still recovering from it.

Whitehead told the court she also had a shoulder fracture that took four months to heal, and still has limited movement in that joint.  For her injuries, Whitehead has exhausted the government physio therapy funding, she testified.

In court on Thursday the New Zealanders said the defendant had showed no remorse. Fahey said, “her care factor was zero.”

But Stanke testified yesterday: “I might not display my emotions in the way expected by the ladies, but I was very, very worried.”

Stanke told the court that she had tended to Fahey’s bleeding head after the accident, even though Fahey could not remember it.

Rasmussen asked the defendant if she felt like she was at fault.

Stanke said only to the extent that she decided to go home the wrong way around the island, “wrong place, wrong time”.

In her cross examination, Crown lawyer William said all three witnesses involved in the crash saw Stanke pull over to the left before making the right turn. William asked the defendant if this happened.

Stanke testified that she could not see any reason why she would pull over to the left and did not remember doing this.

William also asked why the defendant didn’t see Cuthers on his motorbike if she checked the traffic behind her.

Stanke said: “The moment I started turning, he started overtaking, that’s the only way I can explain the collusion.”

Justice Patrick Keane presided over the hearing, which started on Thursday and concluded yesterday, on the video conference app Zoom from New Zealand.

The judge said because of the fine details relating to the case, he needed to check the court transcripts before making a decision. Justice Keane said it should not take long for him to make his decision.