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Bus company charged over fatal Christmas Eve crash which killed 3 Featured

The bus was carrying 53 people travelling as part of a fundraising visit by the Mailefihi Siu’ilikutapu College brass band from Tonga when it plunged down a bank. Photo: NZ Herald The bus was carrying 53 people travelling as part of a fundraising visit by the Mailefihi Siu’ilikutapu College brass band from Tonga when it plunged down a bank. Photo: NZ Herald

5 January, 2018. One of New Zealand’s largest transport companies has been charged after its bus careened down a 100-metre bank near Gisborne on Christmas Eve 2016, killing three and injuring dozens more.

Ritchies Transport Holdings Ltd (Ritchies Coachlines), along with the driver of the bus, now faces being held criminally liable over the crash.

The charges were laid by WorkSafe at the Waitakere District Court on December 21, just days before the one-year anniversary of the crash on State Highway 2, south of Gisborne.

The bus was carrying 53 people travelling as part of a fundraising visit by the Mailefihi Siu’ilikutapu College brass band from Tonga when it plunged down the bank at about 10.30pm.

Eleven-year-old Sione Taumalolo, and Talita Moimoi (33) were killed.

The band’s head tutor Leotisia Malakai (55), described by her cousin Sinai Meafoou as a “beautiful and kind-hearted lady”, died eight days later of head and internal injuries.

Tevita Lokotui, a prefect at the college who played tuba in the school band, also lost his left leg at the knee as a result of the crash.

The band was in New Zealand as part of a fundraising trip, and were travelling to perform at Gisborne’s Wesleyan Methodist Church on Christmas Day.

Siokatame Tupou, the brass band’s conductor, was also seriously injured.

Ritchies’ depot manager for its West Auckland division, Tim Briscoe, said he was aware of the charge but wouldn’t comment about the case while it was before the courts.

The charge relates to work carried out at the West Auckland depot in Swanson between April 4, 2016 and December 25, 2016.

A WorkSafe spokesperson said one party had been charged under section 36(2) of the Health and Safety at Work Act.

The section states that a person conducting a business or undertaking must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that the health and safety of other persons is not put at risk from work carried out as part of the conduct of the business or undertaking.

WorkSafe said it has now completed its investigation into the crash.

Ritchies will first appear in the Waitakere District Court on February 19.

The driver, Talakai Aholelei, 65, was also charged in April last year with three counts of careless driving causing death and 27 of careless driving causing injury.

After initially pleading not guilty, he changed his pleas in the Auckland District Court on October 6 last year in front of his many supporters, including crash victims.

He will be sentenced later this month in the Waitakere District Court.

-ODT

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