Queenstown coach driver cleared in Fernhill Rd death

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Connectabus driver Robert Docherty has been cleared of blame in the Queenstown death of a Chinese woman tourist last year.

His exoneration comes after coroner David Crerar’s inquest into the February 15, 2010 death of Taiwan national Hsiu-Yuch Lee on Fernhill Road – after being struck by Docherty’s bus.

In findings released today (Wednesday), Crerar extends his sympathy to Docherty.

In a police statement quoted by Crerar, Docherty said: “All of a sudden a face appeared in front of me. The person was coming from my right to left.

“It all happened in a instant.”

Despite Docherty braking as hard as he could, Crerar says, “The person was struck, bounced off the front of the bus and slid down the road.”

Bus passenger Tenzin Lal told police: “As soon as we took that curve at the top of the hill going down towards the roundabout, I saw a woman.

“I think she was running from the lake side of the road across the footpath. I saw her before impact. It seemed she wasn’t sure whether she was going to cross the road or not, she seemed undecided…I only just saw her before the impact and it happened so fast.”

Crerar says the victim Lee went for a walk with family members after dinner at their Fernhill hotel. 

Taxi driver Josephine Holley told police she was driving on Fernhill Rd just before the tragedy and saw eight to 10 “Asian people wearing dark clothing” walking on the side of the road.

Holley was so concerned she slowed and called through the car window to use the footpath because it was much safer.

Keri Fitch was out for a walk and also noticed pedestrians on the left-hand side of the road going down the hill.

Fitch told police: “I thought they were a bit stupid due to the lack of visibility with the darkness and the fact there was no actual footpath on the left.”

Crerar cites Fitch seeing two of the people cross the road and then two others start to cross.

One took two steps into the road then backed off but the other – Lee – carried on to the centre of the road.

Fitch saw Docherty’s bus approach, heard brakes squeal and told police Lee had just stepped over the centreline when struck.

Police cleared the coach of any relevant defect, also noting its headlights and roof display would have made it visible from about 90 metres.

They also pointed out that traffic in Taiwan drives on the opposite side of the road and Lee may have looked right rather than left before stepping out.

Coroner Crerar found Lee’s death was caused by “a severe closed head injury and other injuries”. She died in Lakes District Hospital shortly after the accident.