Overseas tourist flees country after Queenstown wrong-way smash

by Lauren Pattemore - Feb 07, 2023

A car accident involving an American tourist driving on the wrong side of the road has left Queenstown resident Sara Duan with a spinal fracture, a written-off car and, until recently, no hope of receiving compensation.

Seven hours after the accident, the other driver reportedly fled home to California, having supplied police with an incorrect email address, making it harder to track them down.

Reports received by Ms Duan from police reveal the driver had cut their holiday short - their Friday flight home was three days earlier than they’d planned.

The accident occurred on Friday, January 27, at around 5am, as Ms Duan was travelling along Frankton Road on the way to her job as a chef.

Ms Duan says seeing the car driving on the same side of the road as her was scary and difficult for her to process.

"Suddenly they were coming towards me at high speed," she says.

Ms Duan was taken to the Queenstown Lakes District Hospital in an ambulance shortly after. Here, she was questioned by a police officer, diagnosed with a spinal fracture, and told to take two weeks off work.

After following up with Queenstown police repeatedly, Ms Duan finally learned on Wednesday, February 1, what had happened to the other driver - and that they were untraceable.

"She (a police officer) just told me, like, the other driver left - left the country just seven hours after the accident happened. I was so shocked."

Ms Duan says she wants to raise awareness for what happened to her, to try and "prevent drivers from running away”.

She was surprised they'd been allowed to leave New Zealand, whilst she was still in hospital. 

“I guess if more people know about this accident, it would attract some attention and officials can work on something to better deal with accidents like this in the future."

The only information police could divulge was the name of the rental company involved, but receiving compensation for the accident became a catch-22 situation.

Ms Duan says police were unable to supply her the driver’s name or the vehicle registration number, citing reasons of privacy. However, Avis Car Rentals - the company involved - was unable to process her claim without the vehicle registration number.

Avis Queenstown has been approached for comment.

The frustration led to Ms Duan writing a Facebook post on a private page on Friday, February 3, which started to open a few doors for her.

People from the community who'd witnessed the accident got in touch, supplying the information of the number plate - but, it turns out she no longer needed this detail anyway.

Avis contacted her again following the social media post and, this time, helped her lodge the claim, she says.

Although Ms Duan can’t contact the driver, she’s awaiting to hear from Avis if she’ll receive any compensation.

Her car wasn't insured and she's now without a vehicle.

Police have been approached for comment.


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