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No seatbelts in Boston students' deaths

17:29 Wed Jun 12 2013
AAP
A coroner will begin looking at the deaths of three Boston University students, who were killed in a crash on their way to walk across Mt Tongariro.
A coroner will begin looking at the deaths of three Boston University students, who were killed in a crash on their way to walk across Mt Tongariro.

A coroner says the deaths of three Boston University students in a crash near Turangi last year could have been avoided if they had been wearing seatbelts.

Rotorua coroner Wallace Bain described the deaths of Daniela Lekhno, 20, Roch Jauberty and Austin Brashears, both 21, as a dreadfully sad tragedy.

The trio were killed when the minivan they were in crashed while they were on their way to walk the Tongariro Alpine Crossing on May 12 last year.

The court heard the van driver Stephen Houseman had warned his passengers to buckle up before they left Taupo and again after a refuelling stop at Turangi.

The three students who died and a fourth, Meg Theriault, who was seriously injured were not buckled in when the people carrier, the last minivan in a three-vehicle convoy, crashed.

Three others who had been strapped in weren't seriously injured.

"If ever there was a clear message for the need to wear seatbelts then this is it," Dr Bain said.

He heard that Houseman, who hadn't previously driven on New Zealand's roads, hit gravel on the side of the road, overcorrected and crossed the centre line, with the van rolling four times before ending up on its roof.

Dr Bain said he has seen the bodies of the dead students and they had been beautiful young people.

He released a statement from Tom and Julie Brashears which said their son Austin had dreamed of going to New Zealand for years and loved every minute "in your beautiful country".

When he died his New Zealand bucket list was almost complete, with the Tongariro hike and being an extra in the Hobbit still to come.

In a statement to the coroner, the editor of the Dog and Lemon Guide, Clive Matthew-Wilson, suggested that the line at the edge of the tar seal be moved 150mm inward, and called for Electronic Stability Control devices on all rental vehicles.

Houseman, 20, pleaded guilty last June to three counts of reckless driving causing death and four counts of careless driving causing injury. He was convicted and discharged and disqualified from driving for six months.

The coroner reserved his findings.