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Turangi crash driver told friends to wear seatbelts

Published: 12:03PM Wednesday June 13, 2012 Source: ONE News

The driver of a van which crashed near Turangi, killing three Boston University students, had told his friends to wear their seatbelts.

United States citizen Stephen Houseman, 20, was driving a group of seven exchange students to the Tongariro Crossing when he lost control on some gravel and their van rolled.

Daniella Lekhno, 20, Roch Jauberty, 21 and Austin Brashears, 21, were not wearing seatbelts and were thrown from the van. They died at the scene.

Another passenger, Margaret (Meg) Theriault, was also not wearing a seatbelt and was seriously injured after she was thrown from the vehicle. She woke from a coma last month and flew back to Boston today.

Houseman, 20, pleaded guilty today to three counts of careless driving causing death and four counts of careless driving causing injury when he appeared in court in Auckland.

He has been disqualified from driving for six months and was told to pay court costs.

Judge Brooke Gibson said Houseman had twice asked his friends to put on their seatbelts before the fatal crash.

"In terms of being the responsible driver he did what he could to insist that the other passengers wear their safety belts," she said.

However despite his remorse Gibson said Houseman was guilty of dangerous driving.

Police said there was no other car involved in the crash, and Houseman was driving within the 100 kilometre per hour speed limit. There were no alcohol or drugs involved in the incident and it's believed Houseman must have been distracted and simply lost concentration.

Student returns home

As Meg Theriault flew back to Boston today, her parents thanked people in New Zealand who had taken care of their daughter.

"Because of all of the care, love and prayers Meg has received since the accident on May 12, she is now on her way home with us to Boston," Todd and Deb Theriault said in a statement.

"We just cannot find the words to thank the staff at Waikato Hospital and the wonderful Kiwis that have made us feel so welcome here."

They said Meg is aiming to return to her studies in Boston and is planning on coming back to New Zealand once she has finished.