'He ruined my life and never said sorry'

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By Sandra Conchie

"He's ruined my life and never once said to me I'm sorry."

These are the words of crash survivor Chris Welch eight months after Omokoroa man John Mackay fell asleep at the wheel of his car and smashed into her van, leaving her with horrendous injuries including the loss of part of her leg.

On September 24 last year, Mackay, 70, and his wife were on their way home from Auckland Airport after arriving back in the country on a long-haul flight from Europe.

The couple had rested two to three hours before getting into the car and driving back to their Omokoroa home.

The Mackays were almost home when Mr Mackay fell asleep at the wheel on State Highway 2 at Apata, crossed the centre line, and smashed head-on into Ms Welch's van.

Doctors told Ms Welch's partner Lisa Charman that she might not survive her injuries. Ms Welch was hospitalised for 10 weeks and has had seven surgeries including the amputation of the lower part of her right leg from mid-calf down.

Sentencing hearing for John Mackay who cause the crash which seriously injured Bay of Plenty driving instructor Chris Welch. Photo/George Novak
Sentencing hearing for John Mackay who cause the crash which seriously injured Bay of Plenty driving instructor Chris Welch. Photo/George Novak

Ms Welch is now wheelchair bound.

Mackay sustained serious injuries including fractures and his wife's injuries included a fractured vertebrae, concussion and bruising to her lower abdomen.

Mackay was sentenced in Tauranga District Court on Thursday on two charges of careless operation of a motor vehicle causing injury - one charge each for Ms Welch and Mackay's wife - and was ordered to pay $30,000 reparation and disqualified from driving for 12 months.

During the emotionally-charged sentencing hearing, Ms Welch wept as she described the lasting impacts on both her and her partner.

Every day since the crash, Ms Welch said she had lived with the constant thought that it would have been better if she had died.

"Sometimes I just wish I hadn't survived the accident. I fight every day with these thoughts and I know it hurts my family.

How can you nearly kill me and not feel guilty? This should be you, John, sitting in this chair, not me.
Chris Welch

"I hate knowing I was involved in a crash which wasn't might fault, and I struggled every day in hospital knowing my injuries would affect me for the rest of my life . . . I found out about two weeks after being in hospital that John was in a room not far from me and not once had he come to see me or asked the nurses how I was . . . all I wanted was for you to say sorry."

Ms Welch said at a restorative justice meeting she had asked Mackay if he had thought about her since the accident.

"John said he is a very selfish person and not once had he thought about me. He is only worried about his own rehab. I was so heartbroken when he said that."

Continued below.

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Ms Welch said she had never wanted to hate Mackay for causing the accident.

Christine Welch, a driving instructor who was seriously injured when her van collided with a car on State Highway 2 at Apata, west of Tauranga, on 24 September 2016. Photo/supplied
Christine Welch, a driving instructor who was seriously injured when her van collided with a car on State Highway 2 at Apata, west of Tauranga, on 24 September 2016. Photo/supplied

"But I can't help it now, I hate him with all my heart. How can you hurt me so badly and not wonder if I'm okay? How can you nearly kill me and not feel guilty? This should be you, John, sitting in this chair, not me."

Ms Welch said she had a year of surgeries ahead and would never walk properly again, even with a prosthetic leg. She owned the Western Bay Riding School and it would be at least two years before she could return to work as a motorcycle driving instructor.

"I cry every day with frustration, sometimes I just look out into the paddocks and ask why I am like this while John is walking around . . . This accident has changed my life forever, and it hurts to know that, John, you don't care."

Mackay's lawyer Tony Balme told Community Magistrate Robyn Paterson that, from the defendant's point of view, despite the terrible long-term consequences of the crash, the level of culpability was "not particularly high".

The defendant had no recollection of the crash and could not recall the moments before his car hit Ms Welch's van.

Mr Balme said the defendant had felt fine to drive.

"This is the typical case of momentary loss of concentration shortly before you get home . . . and the evidence shows the level of culpability was at the lower end of scale but, given the consequences, Mr Mackay offers $15,000 by way of reparation."

Mr Balme said Mackay and his wife were both superannuitants and were servicing a mortgage on their home so the offer of $15,000 reparation was "a significant one".

Mrs Paterson said Mackay's carelessness was the cause of the accident.

"It seems the degree of carelessness, in my opinion, was at a moderate scale with horrendous conclusions at the very high end of the scale.

"You drove after a long-haul flight, a period of some 20 hours travel, and say you had two to three hours' sleep. You would have been fatigued. To drive to Tauranga after such a long journey with little sleep was irresponsible, and clearly your driving fell well below that of a prudent driver," she said.

Mrs Paterson said the sentence she imposed could "only ever be a token" and no punishment was ever going to restore the victim's health or losses she had suffered.

"I am concerned about the lack of remorse shown since the accident, which has clearly impacted on her recovery. I accept you had your own injuries to deal with, but the consequences for Miss Welch will be a lifetime of effects.

"You appear selfish to the victim and show little or no concern which has been traumatic for the victim. I do accept there have been impacts on you but it takes very little to say you were sorry."

Chris Welch's multiple injuries include:

Fractured sternum, nose, vertebra, compressed disc and fracture femur, multiple rib, lower leg and foot fractures requiring reconstructive surgery, skin graft surgery on left arm which left permanent disfigurement, mid-calf amputation on right leg, right eye requires treatment for shaking and blurring.

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