Police charged the wrong driver, leaving her in debt

Waitara woman Kura Wijnschenk has been left tens of thousands of dollars in debt after a year-long battle to clear her name for an accident she didn't cause.

The 44-year-old was charged with careless driving causing death and injury after being behind the wheel of a horrific crash in May 2017 which killed her Aunt, Cherie Bidois.

A year on from being charged, police have now been forced to drop the prosecution case against her.

"We're exposing some of the mistakes that they've made - and there's not been just one, there's been a lot of mistakes," says Ms Wijnschenk.

The Hui can now reveal certain aspects of the police prosecution case against Ms Wijnschenk which raise serious questions why she was ever charged with causing the fatal crash in the first place.

Eighty-year-old Invercargill man Peter Cruickshank, who was also seriously injured in the crash, was heading straight towards Kura's rental campervan.

Serious crash investigator Snr Const Alastair Crosland found Ms Wijnschenk at fault for the collision, for being on the wrong side of the road.

She was charged in November last year - almost six months to the day since the head-on smash.

"In this case I think they've got it completely backwards and charged the wrong driver," says Dr Tim Stevenson.

Kura Wijnschenk
Kura Wijnschenk Photo credit: The Hui

Dr Stevenson is a forensic engineering expert who specialises in reviewing police serious crash reports. He was employed to help Ms Wijnschenk's defence after charges were laid.

Dr Stevenson obtained the vehicle data recordings from police and turned that information into animations. Much like a plane's black box, it shows how the crash happened.

"She saw an oncoming car cross a centreline into her path and she considered turning to the left , which is the natural reaction to do, [but] she saw a steep bank. She then braked hard and swerved to the right, but it looks like the other driver must have realised at the last moment that a collision was about to occur and corrected.

"You can see when she braked, you can see when she turned, and it matched perfectly."

But that's not what's in Snr Const Crosland's original report, which was signed off four months after the crash. No action was taken by police for another two months.

"They had the pieces of the puzzle by then, and I don't know why it would take two-and-a-half months to conclude that they were going to charge her," says Ms Wijnschenk's lawyer Katy Barker.

"The police only charged her on November 14, so that was five days before their limitation period expired," Ms Barker adds.

Under our criminal laws for a driving charge like this, there's a six-month statute of limitations - which means that if Ms Wijnschenk was found not guilty, there wouldn't be sufficient time to hold someone else accountable.

"If police have made an error, as I certainly feel they have in this case, then that doesn't realistically provide for enough time for that error to be exposed and then potentially another person to be charged," Ms Barker says.

Kura Wijnschenk and Cherie Bidois.
Kura Wijnschenk and Cherie Bidois. Photo credit: The Hui

Crucially for Ms Wijnschenk, an eyewitness driving behind her saw the whole accident and supported her version of events.

"What was really important evidence was the driver of the vehicle immediately behind her, who's a completely independent witness, had no relationship to Kura, confirmed the exact version of events," says Ms Barker.

But Dr Stevenson says police disregarded the evidence of the eyewitness.

"[His evidence] was deliberately set aside - it says as much in the police crash analysis report," says Dr Stevenson.

After Dr Stevenson's report and The Hui's investigation in August, police requested a third review of the crash.

"I feel they were realising there's something not right here. Obviously I was a bit, 'Why more?' 'Why make it longer, even more of a delay?" says Ms Wijnschenk.

Ms Wijnschenk says her life has been chaos for a year-and-a-half, since the crash.

When her lawyer finally received the third external review, it also concluded that Ms Wijnschenk did not cause the crash.

"I think if the peer review process was more robust, then these issues would have been picked up much earlier and she should never have been charged," says Dr Stevenson.

"It's a concern, it's a real concern for all of us driving out on the roads and you have a crash you'd really hope that its investigated properly, thoroughly."

A coroner's inquest into Ms Bidois' death will be the next step in the whanau's search for justice. But no other driver can be charged for causing the crash.

"How do I feel? Angry, upset, frustrated. It's not the same, it's inequality, It's Māori versus Pakeha, status versus poor," says Ms Wijnschenk.

"But there's still a journey for us here. There's still a journey for us here, there's still a journey for Aunty Cherie. We never really got anywhere for her."

The Hui

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