The accident scene on Lake Ferry Rd on December 12. PHOTO/FILE
Driver lost ‘gamble’
South Wairarapa man Matthew Tipoki was sentenced to home detention on Thursday on one charge of excess breath alcohol causing death after a fatal crash on December 12 last year, which claimed the life of his best friend.
He had previously entered a guilty plea and appeared in the Masterton District Court before Judge Peter Hobbs for sentencing.
The now 31-year-old had been driving home on Lake Ferry Rd with his friend, Cameron Te Maari-Cumming, after a night on the town.
He had already made two stops to drop off passengers when he lost control of the car around 1.30am, colliding with a power pole which caused significant damage to the passenger side of the car.
Tipoki sustained non-life-threatening injuries, but Te Maari-Cumming was taken to Wellington Hospital in a critical condition where he later died on December 31.
Tipoki was found to have a breath alcohol reading of 916 micrograms of alcohol per litre of breath.
The legal breath alcohol limit for drivers aged 20 and over is 250 micrograms of alcohol per litre of breath.
Both lawyers acknowledged the Tipoki and Te Maari-Cumming families who sat in the public gallery in a show of support.
Crown prosecutor Adele Garrick read a victim impact statement from Te Maari-Cumming’s mother, Pauline Cumming.
In it, she said that the two men had been friends for 18 years since first meeting at school in Pirinoa.
Cumming said it could have been any one of them driving that night.
Although she didn’t condone drink-driving, she said sending Tipoki to jail wouldn’t achieve anything and only cause more harm.
“No sentence will be harsher than being the only survivor of the crash.
“He lost his brother.”
Garrick said the victim impact statement in support of Tipoki, coupled with his lack of previous convictions, his prior good character, and remorse, should be considered mitigating factors in sentencing.
Defence lawyer James Elliot acknowledged there was a “high level of alcohol” involved and said his client would carry a “life sentence” in relation to the death of his friend.
Resolution through restorative justice had been considered earlier but the family decided against formal processes, he said.
Elliot cited Tipoki’s young family, which included a two-year-old and recently-arrived baby boy, and contribution to the community as a volunteer firefighter as testament to his good character.
Judge Hobbs broke from tradition and announced early during sentencing that he would not be imposing a prison sentence, to sounds of audible relief from the public gallery.
“I know today is a difficult day for you and for everyone here,” he told Tipoki.
“He was a close and lifelong friend of yours. You were like brothers.”
He spoke of the Te Maari-Cumming family’s courage and compassion in supporting Tipoki and agreed that a harsher sentence would only result in more victims.
However, he also acknowledged the seriousness of the offending and that it was also of concern to the wider community.
“You were gambling with your life and your friend’s life. You lost that gamble.
“The consumption of alcohol before driving is a pernicious and difficult problem in our community. This is one of those rare occasions where it can be satisfied with home detention.”
Judge Hobbs sentenced Tipoki to 10-months home detention and 120-hours of community work.
He was disqualified from driving for 18-months starting on Thursday.
After this suspension, he will be eligible to apply for an interlock licence for one year – a fitted device which prevents drivers from starting a car if they have alcohol in their system.
After one year with the interlock device, he will be limited to applying for a three-year long zero-alcohol licence.
He was also ordered to pay reparation costs of $3000 to Powerco for the power pole.
Members of the Tipoki family said they wanted to thank the Te Maari-Cumming family for the support they had shown him.
Pauline Cumming said the decision was a big relief.
“We are just very happy about the outcome for Matt.
“It’s the outcome we had hoped for. Cam wouldn’t have wanted anything else.”