Interim name suppression granted for overseas crash driver
Interim name suppression has been granted to an overseas driver summonsed to the Queenstown District court on a charge of dangerous driving causing injury.
The defendant’s lawyer detailed what he claimed were almost daily incidences of racial attacks and cyberbullying against his client and extended family since news had spread of his wrong-way crash on Frankton Road earlier this year.
“He's been subjected to one of the worst online viral attacks that I’ve seen,” the lawyer, Michael Walker, says.
Mr Walker asked for the name, occupation, and photographs of the defendant to be removed from existing and future news stories on the case.
In court today, Judge Russell Walker questioned the point of name suppression, saying “the horse has already bolted” with the story attracting a large amount of media attention in New Zealand and the US and being “readily accessible on the internet”.
The defendant did not appear at the hearing today by video link, and had been excused by the court.
He's facing the charge after allegedly causing a head-on smash whilst driving on the wrong side of the road on January 27 at 5am.
The driver of the other vehicle, Sara Duan, a Queenstown chef, suffered a severe spinal cord injury, and at this stage, is not able to return to work until April.
News stories about the crash have also appeared on Stuff and in a large Californian newspaper, the Orange County Register.
In court today, Queenstown Police said they had a neutral position on the matter of name suppression.
Judge Walker granted interim name suppression, “on the grounds there was an arguable case”, but the question of whether it will continue or not will be examined more thoroughly at the defendant's next hearing.
The name suppression order will be subject to a much higher legal threshold at the second hearing, scheduled for Monday, April 24.
As a result of the New Zealand Police charge, and the circumstances around the Queenstown accident, the defendant's practicing licence issued by a state government agency in California was under investigation.
The charge of ‘dangerous driving causing injury’ was made on the last weekend of February, and it comes with a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment or a $20,000 fine.
Today, the defendant’s lawyer also told the court some details of the incident reported by media have been, in his client's view, incorrect.
This includes the assertion that the driver left the country the same day as the crash, and that he refused to help the victim at the scene.
The driver instead flew to Auckland after the incident, and was unable to leave the country due to the flooding in Auckland, Mr Walker says.
Previously, the police told Ms Duan the driver had left the same day as the accident and this was why they were unable to track him down. This version of events was previously reported by Crux.
The defendant also attempted to help the victim until he was “told by a taxi driver to leave her alone”, Mr Walker says.
Ms Duan recently received an insurance pay-out for her vehicle, which was written off in the smash.
She received $5,500 for her lost vehicle based on the current market evaluation. However, she says a few days before the crash she spent $1,000 servicing the car.