Bus company charged over crash which killed three Tongans in New Zealand

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The Ritchie bus which slid down 100 m a bank killing three and injured several others from Siuʻilutapu Mailefihi college. Photo/Gisborne Herald

New Zealand bus company Ritchies Transport Holdings Ltd (Ritchies Coachlines) has been charged with breaches of the Bus Safety Act.

One of its buses was carrying 53 members of the brass band from Mailefihi Siuʻilikutapu college in Tonga when it plunged down an embankment at State Highway 2, south of Gisborne.

It is believed the bus went through a barrier at Wharerata and crashed down the bank about 10.30pm on December 24

The band had been touring New Zealand to raise funds for the college’s 70th anniversary in December 2016.

New Zealand Herald report said the charges were laid by WorkSafe at the Waitakere District Court on December 21, just days before the one-year anniversary of the crash.

Deceased

An 11-year-old student Sione Taumalolo and Talita Fifita ,33, died in the crash.

Former head tutor for girls at the College, Leotisia Malakai ,55, who has been described as a much-loved and highly-respected teacher, died in Waikato Hospital on January 1.

She suffered head and internal injuries in the crash.

Tevita Lokotui, a prefect at the college who played tuba in the school band, also lost his left leg at the knee as a result of the crash.

Most of the passengers were taken to hospital for medical attention and treatments for injuries.

Pleaded guilty

The driver of the bus, Talakai ‘Aholelei, 65, has pleaded guilty in June 2017 to three charges of careless driving causing death in the Auckland District Court.

He admitted to 27 counts of careless driving causing injury and three counts of careless driving causing death.

Ritchies’ depot manager for its West Auckland division, Tim Briscoe, told the Herald he was aware of the charge but wouldn’t comment about the case while it was before the courts.

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