Tourist to pay $31,000 for death of four motorcyclists


(eTN) – An Austrian tourist who killed four motorcyclists and injured two others in a moment’s carelessness says she will grieve with the victims’ families for the rest of her life.

Heike Schellnegger, 30, an architect, pleaded guilty to four charges of careless driving causing death, and two of causing injury by careless driving after her campervan ploughed into a group of motorcyclists near the South Canterbury town of Fairlie this month.

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At her sentencing in Christchurch District Court yesterday, she avoided a fine but was ordered to pay $31,000 in emotional harm reparations to families of the four deceased and two men injured in the carnage.

Schellnegger, through lawyer Richard Raymond, had indicated that she would make her life savings of some $38,000 available for reparations and compensation to the victims.

Judge David Saunders said imposing a fine was unnecessary and the court’s primary sentencing needs could be met by compensating the deceased’s families and the two injured motorcyclists.

Schellnegger was also disqualified from driving for 12 months.

Judge Saunders made an order returning her passport so she and her partner could leave New Zealand immediately after making arrangements for the reparation payments.

Gavin MacDonald, of Timaru, died at the scene of the crash on State Highway 79 about midday on December 2. His 11-year-old daughter Olivia died the following day at Christchurch Hospital. A British man and woman, Jonathan Hale and Vivian Butler, both 31, were also killed.

Judge Saunders ordered Schellnegger to pay $18,000 to Mr MacDonald’s widow.

The Hale and Butler families would get $6000 each, and the two injured motorcyclists $500 each.

Before Schellnegger’s sentencing Mr Raymond took the unusual step of seeking leave to address victims’ family members attending the hearing.

Schellnegger had met several members of the MacDonald family and earlier Mr Butler’s father and his son in restorative justice meetings.

“Heike has apologised to you with all of her heart,” Mr Raymond said. “She does not expect forgiveness, but she is so grateful for the words of support she received, which took courage and an amazing spirit of forgiveness and compassion.”