Opinion: A crash victim's message to the driver who injured her

On August 20, 2016, Newshub journalist Karen Rutherford was seriously injured when the horse she was riding in Auckland's Dairy Flat was hit by 28-year-old Peng Wang. The horse was killed.

Ms Rutherford was in court on Wednesday as Wang was found guilty of careless driving causing injury.

OPINION: There are two sides to every story. As a journalist you have a duty of care to canvas both.

But when you find yourself caught up in the black and white facts of a story, it's an uncomfortable existence.

I haven't been around my 'old self' for a while and I miss her.

But I've finally had the chance to explain that in court to the person who changed the path of my life, as his guilty verdict was handed down. It feels good. All part of the healing, I keep telling myself.

This is my victim impact statement read out to Wang on Wednesday.

*****

I consider myself a strong woman, a woman who faces life's challenges head-on.

But when you hit me head-on, you shattered me like never before - my emotional strength, my physical presence and my professional faith in New Zealand's political and justice 'systems'.

The trauma you have inflicted on me, my daughter whose horse George was killed, my family, friends and the equestrian community is unspeakable.

As I lay in that ditch I wondered where you were, why you never came to help. This for me is the most devastating of all.

I continue to endure night after night of flashbacks. I see you bearing down on us at full speed on the very edge of the road. I had faith you would slow down and veer away, but you never did.

What possessed you to drive like this, head-on, into two people on horses who'd chosen a safe path on the road's edge?

I hear the sound of your car pulverising George as you struck us, the metal on flesh, and the white flashes as I flew through the air and into your windscreen.

Karen Rutherford Peng Wang crash
Karen Rutherford landed hard on Peng Wang's windscreen (Supplied)

It hurts. It hurts like hell knowing my 13-year-old daughter Ella had to see her horse die like that, as she wrapped her clothing round his leg to try and make it better. She never could.

Your lack of empathy still astounds me. It makes me sick to the core that a human being could exhibit such carelessness and inflict such pain, yet show absolutely no sign of caring or attempting to help at any time after you crashed into us.

I can understand you may have been in shock, but I lay in that ditch for half an hour before the paramedics stabilised me and loaded me into that ambulance. I never saw you or your passenger and that to me is nothing short of cold and inhumane.

Every hour of every day since you did this to us, I think of that day and get a deep well of pain rise up inside me. The tears burn. I have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and I am not the person I used to be.

I spent 15 days in hospital with broken bones, a degloved leg and a head injury. For three months I was barely mobile, confined to a wheelchair or walker before graduating to crutches due to the massive trauma injury to my leg, which surgeons say will take up to a year to heal.

The panic attacks are ongoing. Heightening my anxiety is the fact you live on my very road and are still driving around on your International License, while I struggle to leave my home.

It has taken months for me to have the courage to go in a car with my family, even go and watch my children play sport.

Each journey I make even now I experience flashbacks or distress when vehicles on the road come at us fast.

Karen Rutherford Dairy Flat crash
The scene of the crash in Auckland's Dairy Flat (Supplied)

I feel you have made me a prisoner in my own home - unable to live a normal life. I look out at the paddock where George should be and I cannot bear it.

Out the other side of the house is the crash scene, 100 metres from our gate.

My sharp mind is challenged and I have been unable to remember basics like which animal 'ham' comes from, or iconic places. My children would try and play the memory game with cards; I struggled to even get a pair.

Neurological tests show one side of my brain is slower than the other as a result of hitting your windscreen.

The normal happy, bubbly me feels like I'm crumbling inside. I am a social person but still I am unable to attend social functions or dinners with friends because my head injury makes noise and people unbearable.

My friends tell me I am strong but they do not see my silent tears and the way my children cry themselves to sleep at night because George is dead.

We are picking up the pieces, just like you did with your car, because that's all you cared about as I lay injured and Ella cradled her horse.

Curious George meant the world to us. You will never know the pain I feel at losing him.

You may as well have killed another human, that's how it's affected those of us who held him dear. You will never understand how much of an integral part of our family he was, to the point he'd even try and walk into the house to seek out food or companionship.

He was a champion too, a beautiful intuitive boy who competed most weeks at equestrian events with Ella.

Ella's pain at losing him has taken a dreadful toll and as a mother it devastates me to see her grieving like this. She is 13. She will carry these scars for a long time. We are both having psychological counselling, about what we saw, the anger we have at what we consider utter recklessness, and the void George's death leaves.

I am devastated at what you have taken from us, from me, from my daughter.

My older sister and brother have struggled too.

This crash - notice I don't call it an accident - happened three days out from the anniversary of our mother's death. Our brother Greg too died when he was a pedestrian, killed by a driver in a hit-and-run. It haunts my siblings that I had such a close call.

Your actions have cost us dearly in other ways.

I am a hard worker. I take pride in my 20-year career as a journalist and my job as a reporter and co-Chief of Staff / Assignments Editor at Newshub. Because of what you did to me, I've been unable to do my job for five months.

Karen Rutherford Newshub
Karen Rutherford in her role as a Newshub reporter (Newshub.)

I've struggled with busy or loud environments due to my brain injury - the pressure cooker-type environment of a newsroom, untenable.

You have no idea the domino effect this has had on those who've had to cover for me, and again this upsets me.

So, you could say my resolve has been shattered. But I will rebuild it.

I thank God my daughter was not hit as you were literally 20 centimetres from our other horse. This is the stuff of nightmares for me. The trauma of knowing what could have been is almost as bad as the reality.

And the reality is I am lucky to be alive.

For this I am grateful.

I am not a bitter person, but it'd be fair to say I'm angry.

Angry at your arrogance, your not guilty plea when so many witnesses saw you drive straight into me, and your lies throughout this whole ordeal.

I'm angry at the 'system' that allows people to come into New Zealand and drive for up to a year without any form of theory or practical test. If I went to your country I'd have to jump through hoops to have access to a car. I'd also be expected to respect the rules, and accept the punishment if I broke them.

So should you.

You'll never know the enormity and on-going traumatic effect this has had on me, and those around me. But before you are asked to leave our country, I ask that you compensate us for much of what you have taken away.

Karen Rutherford is co-Chief of Staff / Assignments Editor at Newshub. Her statement has been edited for privacy reasons.

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