Mon, May 13, 2024 10:27 AM

Stolen Mercedes trial: In closing Blenheim crash case Crown says two at fault, defence says one to blame


Tracy Neal

Allister Christie might still be alive today if he hadn’t been led on a high-speed chase by the man who was driving his stolen car.

That’s the Crown’s case, even though the prosecution admits Christie also broke the law with his driving.

“It didn’t happen in a vacuum - it takes two vehicles to have a car chase.

“If not for Kyle Clarke, there would have been no chase,” prosecutor Jackson Webber said.

However, the defence says Clarke isn’t to blame because he had already pulled over on the other side of a stopbank before Christie crashed into him.

“At worst, it was careless,” defence lawyer Tony Bamford said of the driving up until the point he pulled over.

A week-long trial examining the minutes leading up to Christie’s death after a high-speed car chase in Blenheim in March 2022 has drawn to a close in the Blenheim District Court.

"At worst, it was careless," lawyer for the defence Tony Bamford said. Photo / Tracy Neal

Christie was chasing a blue Mercedes stolen from outside his house the day before and died after smashing into the back of it and ending up in a canal.

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

Clarke, who this week defended charges at a judge-alone trial of reckless driving causing death, dangerous driving causing death (in the alternative) and failing to stop to ascertain injury or death, allegedly ran from the scene, injured and “choking on his own blood”, having scrambled out of the Mercedes that had also gone into the canal.

Who caused the crash?

Prosecutor Jackson Webber told the court today in closing the Crown case that the defence position could only succeed if Christie’s driving was found to be the sole cause of the tragic accident.

Webber said the primary issue was causation and that the real issue was not that Clarke’s driving was “the” cause but “a” cause of the collision - not a significant cause, just a “sufficient, proximate and material link to Mr Christie’s death”.

He said it didn’t matter in this case that the victim’s own behaviour contributed to his death.

“There’s no question Christie’s driving was in breach of the statutory obligations. The Crown’s position is that both were driving recklessly but that doesn’t avail Mr Clarke unless Mr Christie was the sole cause.”

Webber said Clarke, who as a local knew the Blenheim roads “like the back of his hand”, led an angry Christie on the chase.

Crown prosecutor Jackson Webber said the defence position could only succeed if Christie’s driving was found to be the sole cause of the tragic accident. Photo / Tracy Neal

Clarke’s decision to make a dangerous evasive manoeuvre using a stopbank as cover needed to be considered in that context.

Christie had given chase when he spotted the blue S Class Mercedes, described as being “built like a tank”, the day after it was stolen.

The police had tried to stop Clarke when they saw him shortly after he’d taken the car, which had by then been reported stolen, but abandoned the pursuit when it became dangerous.

Christie was said to have been frustrated by this.

The pair had never met but Clarke recognised the silver SsangYong driven by Christie - a “much nicer, 10-times quicker car”, parked in front of the blue Mercedes he’d taken when they converged by chance on a roundabout.

The high-speed chase that began on Blenheim’s quiet Sunday streets progressed to a busy state highway.

After turning off State Highway 1 into an open, rural road, Clarke allegedly accelerated heavily for a further 3.3km towards the Ōpaoa River at speeds up to 160 km/h.

As he approached a stopbank before the river, described as a “blind hump” drivers were unable to see over until near the top, it’s alleged he planned an evasive manoeuvre in the hope 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 blue Mercedes, pushing both vehicles into the river.

Bamford said in closing that Clarke acknowledged up to the point he arrived at the stopbank that his driving was at most, careless.

He said it needed to be assessed who initiated the chase.

“We know Mr Christie had a view about the police chase policy and we can understand the frustration and anger that led him to behave in a way that was crazy,” Bamford said.

He said the Crown had to establish beyond reasonable doubt that Clarke knew what he was doing was dangerous.

Bamford said the sole cause of Christie’s death was speed and the manner of his driving.

“This is a very simple defence case and I think that’s the point. Mr Clarke was not the primary protagonist - he was apprehensive for his own safety.

“He had no idea who the man was in the following car.”

Bamford said Clarke’s alleged failure to stop and ascertain injury was because he was in shock, but he should have contacted authorities.

A decision will be delivered by Judge Jo Rielly on Friday.

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