Fri, May 17, 2024 1:33 PM

Mercedes thief Kyle Clarke guilty of reckless driving that caused death of Blenheim man


Tracy Neal

He stole a blue Mercedes and drove at speed with the owner in hot pursuit.

Now Kyle James Clarke has been found responsible for contributing to the crash that killed Allister Christie after the pair both ended up in a river flowing through a Marlborough vineyard.

Clarke, 31, was found guilty in the Blenheim District Court today of reckless driving causing death and failing to stop to ascertain injury or death, after he ran from the scene, injured and “choking on his own blood”, having scrambled out of the Mercedes that had crashed into the canal.

The decision by Judge Jo Rielly comes after a five-day trial that examined the minutes leading up to Christie’s death after a high-speed car chase in and around Blenheim in March 2022.

“Sadly, the pursuit ended in tragedy,” she said in delivering her verdict this morning.

Christie was chasing his S-Class Mercedes, which was stolen from outside his house the day before. He died after smashing into the back of it.

Clarke had earlier admitted entering Christie’s Blenheim home on March 12, 2022, taking the keys and then the vehicle, having initially told police he’d taken it from outside the house when he’d seen the keys were in it.

He denied charges linked to the circumstances in which Christie died the following day. Judge Rielly has now found it was clear he had to be held responsible, based on witness evidence, detailed forensic crash evidence and legal precedent.

After the verdict, a spokeswoman for Christie’s family told NZME she was surprised but glad, as she felt the outcome could have gone either way.

It had been a rough time adjusting to his absence.

“Particularly for his wife, but for everyone, for all the family – for all who knew him.

“This trial has been looming for more than two years and going through it all again now has been difficult but we have been able to fill in some missing pieces and gain a fuller understanding of the events that took place back then.”

Allister Christie died while pursuing his stolen Mercedes in March 2022. His wife Heather described him as a peaceful man. Photo / Christie family

The Crown, which said there was no dispute a that high-speed chase had occurred, focused its case on whether Clarke’s reckless driving caused Christie’s death.

The defence focused on causative events and the moments leading up to the collision, and whether the cause of Christie’s death was speed, which was “exponentially different in character” to his driving up to that point.

Judge Rielly said Clarke “set the pace” and chose the path of travel. He was a local, knew the roads well and could have stopped at any point and left on foot.

“He would have been able to get away but he opted for a more dangerous way to get away.”

The stolen car

Christie’s wife, Heather, described him in her evidence as a peaceful man. If he had seen his stolen car, he would have wanted to sort out who had taken it and give them a “telling off”.

Crown prosecutor Jackson Webber said in opening the trial that Clarke entered the Christies’ Blenheim home about 8am on March 12 through a side door which Allister had left ajar for the family dog while he went to work. Heather was upstairs in bed.

Clarke took items including a set of car keys to their Mercedes Benz and then drove off in it.

He was seen by police less than an hour later parked outside a Blenheim address.

The officers recognised Clarke and tried to stop him but he drove off at speed, overtaking vehicles as he fled, so they did not pursue him.

Christie was advised of the incident later that day and was said to have expressed frustration at the police decision to abandon the pursuit.

The high-speed chase

About noon the next day, Christie was driving a silver SsangYong when he saw Clarke driving the Mercedes at a roundabout in Blenheim.

After Clarke realised Christie was the owner of the Mercedes, he took off at speed and a chase ensued through streets with a 50km/h speed limit.

Clarke then turned hard left onto State Highway 1 and drove over the highway bridge at close to 130km/h while passing two vehicles.

The area is often busy with traffic and heavy vehicles heading to and from the Cook Strait ferries.

According to witnesses, Clarke continued at speed for a further 2.5km and then suddenly swerved right into a street while travelling between 60 and 80km/h, into the oncoming lane and over the train tracks.

The way he drove through an intersection caused significant alarm to others on the road.

One of them was Skye Hale, who told the court she’d been driving home from a nearby dairy when she noticed a car “flying out in front of her”, as she approached the left turn off the highway to the street where she lived.

She said the car was going “very fast” and a second car appeared to be chasing it.

The crash

Clarke accelerated heavily for a further 3.3km towards the Ōpaoa River at speeds up to 160km/h.

As he approached a stopbank, described as a “blind hump”, he planned an evasive manoeuvre in the hope that Christie would go past and not see him.

Moments later, Christie came over the stopbank at a speed estimated at more than 120km/h. His vehicle launched into the air and landed on its nose, skidded and struck the rear of the Mercedes, pushing both vehicles into the Ōpaoa River, where they were submerged.

The impact was so severe that debris was scattered over a wide area.

Christie’s vehicle was later found in a deep culvert.

His cause of death was inconclusive but, according to a forensic pathologist, it was likely that his injuries from the crash, while not thought to be fatal, might have made it difficult for him to get out of the submerged car.

Clarke was able to get out of the Mercedes through a rear door and swam to the bank before running away.

Judge Rielly said that, although he was injured and scared, that was not enough to have prevented him from stopping to check on the other driver, who he would have known was involved in the crash.

About 4pm, Adrian Ferris was out cycling and noticed two vehicles in the river. He initially thought they had been dumped. He took photos and tried to call the police, but could not get through and carried on with his ride.

Ferris’ neighbour was a police officer who, after hearing what Ferris had seen and seeing the photos he’d taken, alerted staff on duty who went and secured the scene.

By then it was getting dark and police could see evidence of what had been a high-speed impact but could not see whether anyone was in either car.

It wasn’t until the next morning that Christie was found in the submerged vehicle. His body was removed that afternoon and his family notified.

The family said nothing would bring him back but the end of the trial had given them a measure of closure and the ability to move on.

Judge Rielly entered Clarke’s convictions and scheduled a sentencing date in July.

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