Fatal crash: Anger as woman sentenced in Taupō

Claire “Jeannine” Gwawr Ball, (left) with her mother-in-law Lynda Ball, who were both killed in a head-on crash on Broadlands Rd in Taupo on January 5. Photo / Supplied.

A Taupō woman who fell asleep at the wheel and crashed head-on into a car, killing a beloved mother and grandmother, was experiencing multiple symptoms, including drowsiness, in the two weeks leading up to the smash.

Kim Blakeney-Williams had her statin medication, for lowering cholesterol, “quadrupled” two weeks prior to a crash on Broadlands Rd on January 5 this year.

During her sentencing in the Taupō District Court today on two charges of careless driving causing death, Sergeant Marty McGahey said she had been experiencing nausea, diarrhoea, brain fuzziness and tiredness, “and finding this more difficult on this dose”.

Her husband, Richard, also noted her tiredness had increased on the higher dose and he’d suggested she stop working at Central Ford Motor Group, where on the fatal afternoon, she had decided to drive to Rotorua to pick up a car part.

It was on her return that she failed to negotiate a moderate bend and crashed straight into the car carrying Reporoa mother-of-three Claire “Jeannine” Gwawr Ball, 51, and her mother-in-law Lynda Ball, 76, of Taupō.

A scene examination found no brake marks at the scene. No illegal drugs or alcohol were detected in her blood.

McGahey argued that those symptoms increased her culpability for the charges to moderately high and urged Judge Arthur Tompkins hand down a community detention sentence, which would see her subject to a night-time curfew.

But Blakeney-Williams’ counsel Ron Mansfield successfully argued it was important the court did not descend into an area of “hindsight” and there had been no warning from her doctor nor around the medication itself not to drive.

Judge Tompkins agreed with Mansfield’s submission to sentence her to community work, imposing 150 hours, and 12 months’ disqualification from driving.

He also ordered emotional harm reparation to each family of $10,000.

The sentence was too much for Ball’s whānau, who muttered in disgust.

Jeannine’s husband Kevin stood up and yelled, “is that it, is that?” as Judge Tompkins left the court room.

Tensions escalated as Blakeney-Williams was then ushered out a back door of the court room, instead of having to walk past supporters of both families.

Supporters from both sides then had heated discussions as Ball lamented the others’ ability to go home to their loved ones tonight, while the bereaved family members couldn’t.

“You took two f****** lives,” he yelled at her, “what the f*** is this justice system about, eh”.

‘We have been left with the life sentence.

The sentencing started with members of the Ball family reading their victim impact statements to the court.

“We are the victims and you have left us with life sentences,” Kevin Ball said.

“On 5 January at about 4.10pm the two most precious women in my life were taken by your reckless actions,” he said.

Jeannine had travelled on Broadlands Rd nearly every day over the last 18 years but the trip that day had destroyed their family.

He said he had cried most days for having lost “my soulmate of 30 years”.

“The only thing I cry about during the day is Jeannine.

“You took our lives but you also took our futures,” he said. “Jeannine had so much to live for.”

Members of the Ball family and their supporters wait outside the Taupo District Court for Kim Blakeney-Williams, who had been sentenced on two charges of careless driving causing the deaths of Jeannine Ball and her mother-in-law Lynda Ball of Taupo on January 5. Photo / Belinda Feek.

She had never got to meet her new grandson, who was at court with his father and the couple’s oldest son, Joshua and partner.

“I can’t write and tell you what this feels like,” Joshua said.

“I feel so robbed and heartbroken. Mum was one of the most amazing people to grace this planet.

“Mum was everything to me ... we had so much fun and laughs together.”

That sadness then turned to anger.

“I feel the whole process has been disgusting.

“I have no faith in the New Zealand justice system or New Zealand police.

“Our criminal justice system is heavily weighted in the favour of the defence, not the victims.”

Other family members earlier expressed the same frustration - that someone who kills someone while driving a car can get the same sentence as someone who steals less than $500 worth of groceries from a supermarket.

‘Nothing I can do will address that loss’

In a statement afterwards, Blakeney-Williams said she acknowledged the loss felt by the Ball family.

“Nothing I can do will address that loss and the obvious grief they understandably feel. If I could address those feelings, I would in a heartbeat.

Members of the Ball family outside the Taupo District Court, including Kevin Ball (left) and son Jaden (far right) with Sergeant Steve McNally after the sentencing of Kim Blakeney-Williams. Photo / Belinda Feek.

“To know I caused that pain by something as simple as falling asleep at the wheel, something I never imagined or contemplated, is hard for me to contemplate and accept.”

She said she didn’t feel any different that day, despite the change in prescribed medication.

“I never contemplated it might impact on my driving decisions or safety.

“Simply, if I had feared I might fall asleep, I would not have driven. I am an otherwise responsible, careful and safe driver.”

In handing down her sentence, Judge Tompkins noted she hadn’t been charged with the more serious dangerous or reckless driving causing death, and there were no aggravating features leading up to the crash, such as speeding or erratic driving.

Blakeney-Williams also had a low likelihood of reoffending and any previous convictions were decades prior and not relevant.

“In those circumstances, I assess your culpability as low.”

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