Rotorua fatal bus crash driver Junwei Zhang sentenced to home detention

The driver involved in a fatal Rotorua bus crash has been sentenced to home detention, fined and disqualified from driving.

Junwei Zhang was driving a bus full of Chinese tourists on September 4, 2019 when he lost control of the vehicle and it rolled on State Highway 5 on the outskirts of Rotorua.

In the crash, five people were killed, including a 5-year-old child, and eight others were taken to hospital with serious injuries. Zhang was not seriously injured in the accident. 

On Tuesday, Zhang appeared in the Rotorua District Court with his lawyer and a translator, having pleaded guilty to all 13 charges laid against him.

The judge sentenced him to 4.5 months home detention, $13,000 dollars in reparations, and he was disqualified from driving for 18 months.

The court heard how the conditions were poor on the morning of the accident with strong winds, clouds and rain.

The judge said Zhang should have adjusted his driving to the conditions.

"You had a duty of care to get the passengers safely to their destination," she said.

"This is not a momentary lapse .. the conditions should have put you on notice that care and attention should have been required."

Rotorua fatal bus crash driver Junwei Zhang sentenced to home detention
Photo credit: Image - Bishal Basnet

During the journey, the bus was hit with a freak gust of wind and Zhang overcorrected, causing the back of the bus to rotate 180 degrees and slide off the road.

In the crash, five passengers were thrown through the windows and died at the scene.

"Your carelessness had catastrophic consequences," the judge told Zhang.

At Tuesday's sentencing, 15 people read victim impact statements detailing the injuries and trauma they experienced. Many spoke of financial pressures they now face and how they're too shaken to travel.

"The events of September have had a distressing, profound and deep effect on passengers," the judge said.