SH2 fatal crash: “She should have slowed down, backed up and let him in”

Car traffic camera footage was saved on the day of the accident. Photo / Waka Kotah

The failure of two motorists to back up and let the other forward on a junction lane resulted in a tragic crash that claimed the life of one and injured two others.

“Either of these vehicles could have backed up to allow the other to move forward,” a police expert told a trial in the death of David Armstrong yesterday.

“None of the riders gave in…or applied the brakes to leave either of them ahead of them.”

The other driver, Lucilla Linda Brunt, 36, is charged with dangerous driving that caused Armstrong’s death in 2020.

Two motorists, Caron and Mark Lancaster, were seriously injured when Armstrong’s car lost control and drove into their lane. The couple could not stop, and the collision with Armstrong was so violent that the body of his Nissan car was compacted only 65 cm.

Friends and family of Armstrong and Brunt attended Wellington District Court yesterday for the start of the trial before Judge Mike Mika.

Prosecutor Grant Burston said the fatal crash happened on November 14, 2020, near the intersection of Gibbons Street and SH2 in Upper Hutt.

At 10:55 a.m., Brunt and Armstrong, who were both traveling south, headed for the intersection. Brunt was on the right and Armstrong on the left.

The court heard there was a merge lane about 100m after the intersection, but evidence gathered by police showed that no conductor had fallen or merged like a zip line.

Instead, they covered around 400 meters, traveling at around 103 km/h, side by side before disaster struck.

The front of Brunt’s car collided with Armstrong’s left rear door and bumper, causing Armstrong’s car to spin into the southbound lane and collide with Lancaster’s Toyota in the northbound lane.

In the Crown’s opening statements, Burston said that although the two cars were at risk of a collision and Brunt had priority due to her position in the right lane, she should have conceded what another motorist described more late as a race or an act of road rage.

“(She) should have slowed down, backed up and let him in,” Burston said.

Burston called four witnesses to testify, including three members of the public and the Serious Crash Unit crash scene investigator, Senior Constable Lisa Toseland.

Toseland provided ample evidence throughout the day, referring to a list of variables indicating the accident was avoidable if one car slowed down and let the other pass.

Armstrong worked in the pest control industry and reportedly worked for cash on weekends. His partner told police he seemed in a hurry and was eager to be on time for the jobs he had promised.

She described her partner as a gentleman with a strong work ethic and a love for his family.

One of the three witnesses on the stand said the incident took long enough for her to look in her rear view mirror and know something was about to happen, “because neither vehicle was giving up.”

“I backed off because I knew it wasn’t going to end well…I assumed they were either running or raging down the road trying to figure out who was going to let the other in,” said another witness in evidence.

Brunt’s 2020 police statement was read aloud in court by Senior Constable Toseland and described the incident from the accused’s perspective.

She said she was shocked to see Armstrong’s car pull up right beside her. She said she felt stuck and like she had nowhere to go due to oncoming traffic, and asked her teenage daughter to film what was happening.

Toseland said there were a number of options available to Brunt at the time, including slowing his vehicle, and that could have prevented the contact that occurred.

“A reasonable response is to take your foot off the gas and slow down…but because of oncoming cars, she may not have considered that a viable option,” Toseland said.

The hearing ended after lengthy testimony from Toseland, who will continue to testify this morning before being cross-examined by defense attorney Michael Antunovic.