Police have been found unjustified in their decision to withdraw a charge against a man pertaining to a fatal motorcycle accident in Rotorua on January 29, 2019.
At about 5.25pm, 57-year-old Tony Parahi was riding his motorcycle south along State Highway 36, adjacent to Lake Rotorua, says a statement released by the Independent Police Conduct Authority.
Ahead of Tony was a man, a local farm worker, who was driving a 12-metre-long tractor and trailer in the same direction.
The farm worker pulled over to his left to let two cars pass before he turned right, across the road to enter a paddock.
This manoeuvre took him into the path of Tony on his motorcycle.
Police reconstructions indicated that in trying to avoid a collision with the tractor and trailer, Tony braked heavily and lost control of his motorcycle.
He was thrown onto the roadway, the motorcycle vaulted in the air and landed on him. Members of the public assisted Tony, but he died at the scene.
Police investigated the crash and subsequently charged the farm worker with careless driving causing death.
On May 19, 2020, after the matter had been before the court for 10 months, and was listed for trial, the police prosecutor withdrew the charge, informing the court that no evidence would be offered.
A Coronial Inquest into Tony’s death was held in May 2021.
The Coroner found the death was an avoidable accident, in that the farm worker was careless in not waiting for the motorcycle to pass.
“In December 2021, we received a complaint from a member of Tony’s whānau and conducted an independent investigation,” said Authority Chair, Judge Kenneth Johnston KC.
“We found there were shortfalls in the crash investigation, but it was of sufficient quality to lay the charge.
“We found that the police’s decision to withdraw the charge was inexplicable, and the matter should have been decided in court by a Judge.
“We were not able to reach a view as to whether bias against Tony played a part, except that the withdrawal of the prosecution case was made without a clear and documented reason.
“We also found the communication by Police with Mr Parahi’s whānau was poor.
“The Authority’s overall conclusion was that the prosecution should have gone ahead so that the issue of guilt could be determined following trial before the Judge.”
Following the release of today’s findings by the IPCA, police have released a statement saying they “acknowledge and accept the findings”.
Assistant Commissioner Richard Chambers says given the nature of the charge and the circumstances, it would have been more appropriate to refer the prosecution back to court for a judge to consider and decide if the charge should be dismissed.
“Our Bay of Plenty staff have met with the victim’s whānau to apologise for the grief that this caused them, at a time when they were dealing with the loss of a loved one.
“We sincerely regret the impact that this protracted matter has had on the victim’s whānau, and we resolve to do better.”
Police accept that there were some shortcomings in this serious crash investigation. Numerous steps are now in place to mitigate and ensure that the process is more robust.
In June 2022, the Bay of Plenty District Road Policing Manager acknowledged and apologised for errors in the police investigation.