Chinese crash driver sends apology

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A Chinese driver who smashed into another car near Queenstown, hospitalising two British tourists, has sent a heartfelt apology.

Paul Whitmell, a chartered accountant from Cambridge, remains in Dunedin Hospital recovering from serious injuries after the rental car he was driving on Gibbston Highway two weeks ago was struck by another driven on the wrong side of the road by tourist Qian Li (35).

Whitmell says he’s grateful to receive a letter from Li expressing her sincere apologies to him and his wife Rosie, who is now staying in a hotel after initially being flown by helicopter to Southland Hospital.

He learned from Li’s lawyer that, much like him, the Chinese woman received no guidance from her company about New Zealand road rules.

In Li’s letter – translated into English by a woman she is staying with in Arrowtown - she says she’s “truly sorry” for the pain and hurt she has caused.

“I have shamed my family, and put a financial burden on them. I want to take this opportunity to wish you both a quick recovery from the injuries sustained in the car accident,” she says.

A driver of four years in China, Li, who was travelling with a friend at the time of the crash, is still unsure how she lost control.

“I was not distracted in any way, was not talking to my friend, neither was I on my cellphone. I can only think that I hit the gravel on the left-hand side and over-corrected my steering wheel into the path of your vehicle.”

Li’s lawyer says it’s likely her retired parents’ life savings would need to be brought to New Zealand as a result of the crash.

The woman is awaiting sentencing for careless driving.

Whitmell says had Li been shown a video about New Zealand road rules and conditions by the rental company, the crash might not have happened.

He repeated his call made earlier on television programme Campbell Live for Prime Minister John Key or another government MP to visit him and the Marris family, which lost 5-year-old Ruby Jay Marris in a crash near Moeraki involving a tourist, to hear their concerns.

Whitmell was not happy with a spokesman for Mr Key saying he had received no formal invitation.

”What does he want me to do – write with a broken hand?”

He was unsure when he would be discharged from hospital, but it was ”wonderful” to be reunited with his wife.

Whitmell was also glad to see her husband again and believed the reunion was helping with his recovery.

”Since he has seen me and I have been coming to visit, he seems to be a lot better.”

She fully supports his campaign for around foreign drivers.

A spokeswoman for the Prime Minister issued a statement saying he extends his sympathy to the Whitmell and Marris families.

On the issue of meeting them she said: ”The Prime Minister hasn’t been formally invited to meet with the Whitmell and Marris families.”

The Government recognises many people were concerned with poor driving on roads in and around popular tourist destinations, particularly in the lower South Island.

This was the reason why it was extending the Visiting Drivers Signature Project, aimed to provide overseas visitors with all the tools and information needed to keep themselves and others safe on New Zealand’s roads, the statement says.

Otago Daily Times