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Bus driver on trial for crash injuring tourist in Rarotonga

Tuesday 19 March 2024 | Written by Losirene Lacanivalu | Published in Court, National


Bus driver on trial for crash injuring tourist in Rarotonga
Raro Tours bus was involved in a crash in December 2022. The driver is being tried by a judge and jury at the High Court in Avarua. Picture: POLICE MEDIA/22122820

The driver accused of a bus crash that occurred in Rarotonga in late December of 2022 is being tried by a judge and jury at the High Court in Avarua.

Chad Thomas Hickes, represented by defence lawyer Norman George, appeared before Chief Justice Patrick Keane yesterday for a charge of careless driving causing injury.

It is alleged that on December 28, 2022, Hickes carelessly drove a passenger vehicle, a Raro Tours bus, and caused bodily injury to a 13-year-old male tourist passenger on the same vehicle.

Crown Law prosecutor Lucinda Rishworth stated in her opening address to the jurors that the victim suffered from a serious injury on his hand.

“The Crown says Hickes caused the injury,” she said.

Rishworth said Hickes is employed as a local bus driver. On the day of the accident, he picked up seven passengers around midday – a New Zealand family from the Pacific Resort Hotel and an Australian family from another resort.

When nearing the airport near Vaiana’s Bar & Bistro, the bus began veering off the left side of the road, close to the trees. Windows shattered and the vehicle crashed.

A passenger yelled, asking Hickes what he was doing, but he did not reply. Rishworth said another passenger inquired about the accident, and Hickes responded that he had fallen asleep with his eyes closed.

Rishworth added that the 13-year-old victim underwent three separate surgeries in New Zealand.

She also mentioned that the defendant told police another car crossed the centre line, causing the accident. 

According to Rishworth, Hickes failed to exercise reasonable care and attention and fell asleep while driving.

The Crown’s witnesses include the victim and his parents, the police officers, the Australian couple who were also on the bus, and a Cook Islands resident. Rishworth reminded the jurors to base their decision on the facts presented in the courtroom and the events that transpired during the incident.

Defence lawyer George cast doubt on the impartiality of the Crown’s witnesses, who were passengers involved in the accident.

In a Zoom call yesterday, the victim’s father responded to questions raised by Rishworth. He said he and his wife, along with their three children, were vacationing in Rarotonga. The defendant picked them up from their accommodation at the end of their holiday. The father was seated at the back of the bus. While travelling to the airport, he noticed the trees on the left side getting closer, windows shattering, and the bus drifting off the road.

The victim’s father said he was in shock and panic. He saw one of his sons lying down on the bus aisle, with people helping them get out. He was told his son’s hand injury was serious, but they caught their flight that same day and received medical attention at Middlemore Hospital in Auckland.

Defence counsel George asked the witness how fast the bus had been travelling. The witness replied that it was probably between 30 and 50 kilometres per hour. When asked if he saw a red car coming in the opposite direction of the bus, the witness said he did not.

The trial is expected to end today.