A young German woman left lying seriously injured for six hours after a Queenstown crash is a “fighter”, but may never fully recover, her mother says.
Four-and-a-half months later, Marie Spendig is still in a rehab hospital near Hamburg.
The 22-year-old’s mother, Anja, tells Mountain Scene she is improving day by day, but has no memory of the crash, nor the weeks before and after.
Her short-term memory is limited, and she has no feeling in two fingers of her right hand, making everyday activities, such as writing, difficult.
She still has a broken collarbone and torn ligaments, and her doctors say they can’t operate to repair the damage.
“At the moment, nobody can tell us if Marie is expected to make a full recovery.
“Her broken collarbone will be a problem for her her whole life, maybe her right hand as well as her short-term memory.”
But her daughter is a “miracle”, she says.
“We will see what the future will bring.”
Then-boyfriend Sahil Sudhir Shetty has admitted he was under the influence of alcohol when he crashed the car. He left the Gorge Road scene and hitchhiked home.
Caroline Perry, director of road safety charity Brake, says Marie’s case shows how drink-driving wrecks lives.
The charity wants harsher penalties for serious drink-drive offences, and calls on police to step up enforcement.
Marie, Shetty and another person left a central Queenstown bar about 3.40am on March 13 and were last seen driving on Robins Rd.
A Gorge Rd Retail Centre worker found their car at 10.20am, with Marie lying on the ground beside it.
After emergency surgery at Dunedin Hospital, she spent 26 days in ICU on a ventilator.
She couldn’t speak for a month, and had to learn how to walk independently again.
Anja says the news of the accident started a “nightmare” for the family.
“We were full of fears. We flew to New Zealand without knowing if Marie would still be alive when we arrived.
“And then we were frightened about the uncertainty . . . we stopped our normal lives for three months.”
She is still unable to work herself, and is in therapy.
“This accident has changed our lives – Marie’s as well as the lives of the whole family and friends.”
Her daughter had put her agricultural science study on hold to go travelling, and arrived in New Zealand from Thailand last November.
After coming to Queenstown the following month, she applied for a working holiday visa, and was due to start work the day after the crash.
Anja gives special thanks to the workers who found and first attended to her daughter at the crash site, and is “so grateful” to staff at Dunedin and Wakari hospitals who cared for her.
They have also made “friends for life” with the Dunedin family they stayed with for three months.
Shetty told police he’d had five drinks before getting behind the wheel.
After the crash, he apparently cut his girlfriend’s seatbelt, then hitchhiked home to Arrowtown.
A police officer answered when he rang one of the cellphones left in the car at 6pm that evening. He’ll be sentenced on October 29 on a charge of careless driving, under the influence of drink, causing bodily injury.
Only 12 days after the Gorge Rd crash, Queenstown builder Troy Herewini suffered a traumatic brain injury, spinal fractures and other injuries after recidivist drink-driver Josh Newman lost control of a ute on Peninsula Rd.
Herewini was helicoptered to hospital after being thrown 15m from the vehicle.
Perry says communities should not have to live with drink-driving and its awful consequences.
The drink-driving message – like shame’ campaign – had to be hammered home, but simply did not reach many people.
“It can be really difficult to change people’s behaviour, and sometimes there are underlying issues there – addiction problems – that need to be addressed holistically.”
Brake wants police to step up enforcement, and do more breath-testing and drug testing. Penalties needed to be stiffer for serious offences, and measures such as alcohol interlock devices used more widely for recidivist offenders.
More enforcement was critical, but police needed the funding to do it.
“People need to feel there are a lot of people out on the road catching drink- and drug-drivers.
“That will deter some people from taking the risk because they think there’s a good chance they’ll get caught.”