Wye Creek crash driver convicted


A rental car firm worker who borrowed a $40,000 work car without permission and then wrote it off down a Queenstown creek has been convicted.

Brit Steven Edward Cooper, 24, pleaded guilty to two charges when he appeared at Queenstown District Court yesterday (Monday).

Cooper was the driver of a Toyota Highlander which plunged 40 metres down Wye Creek on State Highway 6 about 4am on Wednesday, April 30.

Police said Cooper and his passenger Adam Heath, 22, were “extremely lucky” to survive the accident.

Cooper broke his leg and three ribs and had to be rescued by helicopter, while Heath broke a toe and sustained bruising to his chest.

Cooper, who worked for Thrifty Car Rental in Queenstown, pleaded guilty to taking the vehicle without permission and dangerous driving causing injury.

Prosecuting sergeant Ian Collin says Cooper had agreed to pick up Heath from Lumsden that morning.

On the return trip, sergeant Collin says Cooper approached the tight bend on Wye Creek Bridge too quickly, went over onto the other side of the road in an attempt to get round, then lost control and crashed through the barrier.

Judge Christina Cook, sentencing, says her hands are tied by the fact Cooper’s work visa ran out on May 12, meaning he is technically in the country illegally and unable to work. And his injuries leave him unable to complete a community work sentence.

Cooper’s lawyer Rachel Napier told Judge Cook he also had no assets and the only money he could offer for reparation was $5000 borrowed from his parents.

The car’s estimated value was $40,000 while the barrier itself cost $6000.

Judge Cook says: “Mr Cooper, the position you have left the court in is very restricted.

“There are two aspects – clearly the unlawful taking of the vehicle combined with the driving.

“It was a poor piece of driving on a dangerous piece of road and you injured not only yourself but also the victim.

“It’s a miracle that nobody was killed.”

Judge Cook says her usual sentencing approach would be either a lengthy period of community work, or community detention combined with community work.

But Judge Cook says she’s left with “little option” but to order him to pay $5000 in reparation and disqualify him from driving for 12 months.