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Masterton women loses crash appeal

Lucilla Brunt, a driver who caused a fatal crash near Upper Hutt that killed a teenager and injured two others, has failed in her bid to have her conviction overturned.

Brunt, of Masterton, will keep her criminal record after a judge also rejected her bid for a discharge without conviction.

Her sentence of community work, however, has been reduced by 80 hours after Justice Francis Cooke ruled the sentence “manifestly excessive”. She appealed her conviction and sentence in the High Court at Wellington this month.

She also challenged the decision of District Court Judge Mike Mika to decline her application for discharge without conviction.

Her conviction of careless driving causing death comes from her part in an “avoidable” fatal crash on State Highway 2 in 2020.

Neither Brunt nor the other driver, Hutt Valley teen David Armstrong, yielded to allow the other to go ahead as the lanes merged.

Armstrong died in the resulting crash and Mark and Caron Lancaster, who were travelling in the opposite direction, were injured after Armstrong’s vehicle spun into the oncoming lane.

It was a sunny, clear morning on November 14, 2020, when Brunt and Armstrong were driving south on SH2 near Upper Hutt.

Armstrong was behind a vehicle in the left lane and Brunt was at the front of the queue on the right.

The two lanes merged 100m after the traffic lights, but when both cars moved through the intersection north of Wellington neither allowed the other in.

After travelling side-by-side for about 400m and for 13 seconds, the vehicles collided at an estimated speed of 103kmh.

The left front of Brunt’s vehicle hit the right rear of Armstrong’s Nissan, sending his car spinning into the northbound lane and colliding with the Lancasters’ Toyota.

Armstrong died at the scene.

Justice Cooke declined Brunt’s bid for appeal against her conviction of careless driving causing death, and Judge Mika’s decision to decline a discharge without conviction.

Justice Cooke said he did not accept submissions from Brunt’s lawyer, Blake Dawson, that because his client was obeying the road rules, she wasn’t driving carelessly.

“It is no answer to an allegation of careless driving to say that all road rules were being obeyed by a defendant,” Justice Cooke said.

“A duty remains upon a driver to drive with care, including to take reasonable steps to avoid a collision.”

Justice Cooke agreed with Judge Mika’s assessment of Armstrong’s driving and the fatal crash that occurred.

“His Honour has found that the careless driving of both contributed to the accident,” Justice Cooke said.

“I see no error in the judge’s approach, and I do not accept that the scheme of the road rules was inappropriately applied by the judge in finding that Ms Brunt drove carelessly.”

Brunt’s sentence of 200 hours of community work, however, was reduced on appeal and taken down to 120.

It was decided by Justice Cooke that Brunt’s carelessness arose when she failed to respond to Armstrong’s unsafe driving “in a prudent manner”, and the crash wasn’t a result of intentional drag racing.

“She made a significant error of judgment in failing to respond to his unsafe driving more sensibly,” Justice Cooke said.

“I accept that Ms Brunt was responding to circumstances not of her making which caused danger to herself and her child, where her carelessness was in failing to respond in a sufficiently safe manner.”

In his view, this meant her sentence of community work should be reduced.

“In the circumstances, I conclude that the sentence was manifestly excessive,” he said.

Justice Cooke didn’t accept Dawson’s argument for his client appealing the dismissal of her discharge without conviction application, and agreed with the approach of sentencing Judge Mika. –NZME

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