9 June, 2017. The driver at the wheel of a bus that crashed down a 100m bank in the Wharerata Hills near Gisborne on Christmas Eve, killing three Tongans and injuring dozens more, has pleaded not guilty to 30 driving charges.
Talakai Aholelei, 65, appeared in Manukau District Court today to face three charges of careless driving causing death and 27 of careless driving causing injury.
The bus, carrying 53 people with the Tongan Mailefihi Siu’ilikutapu College brass band, was travelling on State Highway 2 south of Gisborne when it plunged down a 100m bank about 10.30pm.
Sione Taumalolo, 11, and Talita Moimoi, 33, were killed. The band’s head tutor Leotisia Malakai, 55, died eight days later of head and internal injuries.
The band was in New Zealand on a fundraising trip, travelling to perform at Gisborne’s Wesleyan Methodist Church on Christmas Day.
Tevita Lokotui, a prefect at the college who played tuba in the school band, lost his left leg at the knee as a result of the crash. A large contingent from the Tongan community was in court for the hearing.
— NZ Herald