Exclusive Brethren stands by member Russell Stewart after careless driving conviction

Members of Northland's Exclusive Brethren community packed the Whangarei District Court on Friday, offering forgiveness to one of their own.

Russell Stewart's faith is his life.

But today he learned the price he'd pay for taking the lives of three others, after slamming his car into a tree near Dargaville in 2016.

"You spoke to the police after this crash saying you thought you had blacked out...driving along fine, next thing a shower of stones," said Judge Keith de Ridder.

The eight occupants had been heading home from a day out at Bayly's Beach in the overloaded ute, when Stewart lost control and crashed.

Wife Susanna, 48, 16 year-old-daughter Sadie and family friend James Wearmouth were killed.

James' family were among those in court reliving that night, but looking to the future.

"I trusted Russell and I believe he cared to the best of his ability for my son," his father, Jeff Wearmouth, told Newshub. "I hold no grudges, there's no point."

Three other members of the Wearmouth family survived Stewart's careless driving, as did Stewart's eldest son.

"There were four unrestrained passengers, there were underinflated tyres and you had been consuming alcohol in the afternoon," said Judge de Ridder.

The latter was less of an aggravating factor though, according to the Judge.

Ironically, Exclusive Brethren beliefs are centred around preservation and protection of the family unit.

When Russell Stewart killed and injured his nearest and dearest, he faced seven aggravated careless driving charges. It was only when those were downgraded to careless driving that he pleaded guilty.

In sentencing Russell Stewart to four months' community detention, one year disqualification from driving and a year's supervision, Judge de Ridder took account of Stewart's emotional and mental state.

"You are a man of high moral character and integrity, and finally, those close to you know there's significant and deep-rooted trauma you continue to suffer," he said.

But it's suffering this Kaiwaka businessman will endure from here on in, with a staunch community walking at his side.

"I've watched my wife suffer and my children, but you've got to move on with life... you've got to move on," said Mr Wearmouth.


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