A Newsroom investigation raises questions about WorkSafe’s decision not to investigate the death of an American tourist near Queenstown two years ago. Also, in her first New Zealand interview, the tourist’s widow calls for authorities to take action. David Williams reports.

It’s a last-minute decision that proves fatal.

US tourist Richard Hyde takes advantage of a beautiful, clear autumn day and boards Southern Discoveries’ catamaran, Spirit of Queenstown, for a trip across Lake Wakatipu to Mt Nicholas Station. Hyde only pays for the boat trip. But just before the vessel heads back to Queenstown, he decides to take the farm tour.

It’s April 15, 2016, a Friday. Hyde, 73, a Canadian-born American retiree from Massachusetts, is on the tour alone. (He and his wife of 42 years, Kate Jurow, flew to New Zealand so Jurow could present a paper at the National Association for Interpretation conference in Wellington. Jurow elects to stay in Queenstown that day.) The other farm tour attendees are couples – two from New Zealand and one from Thailand.

The seven tourists board the 20-seater four-wheel-drive bus, which journeys into the heart of the farm, stopping at a high point, near an airstrip used by topdressing planes. At the vantage point, with views of the lake, the tourists disembark to take photos and sup the splendour of the scenery.

The 1990 Mitsubishi 4WD bus – one of two at the farm station, but the one without a rear-mounted reversing mirror – heads back down the single-lane gravel road to its starting point, a gravel car park at the 40,000-hectare farm station’s woolshed, not far from the lake shore. (In spring, the shed’s still used to shear the property’s 29,000 merino sheep.)

The bus circles the car park and stops close to the woolshed’s double-doors. The engine idles as the doors open.

Maurice Keith, the farm guide, hops off first, urging the passengers into the woolshed where there are refreshments and a souvenir shop.

The driver, then aged 62, turns in her seat to say goodbye, catching each customer’s eye, as she’s been trained. Once the bus is empty, she follows her routine, done hundreds of times.

She checks the mirrors, puts the bus in reverse to ensure the reversing beepers are going, and takes the handbrake off. Her view out the back window is obscured by the high back seats. (The driver is a touch over five feet tall.) There’s a blind spot directly behind the bus, which beeps loudly as it reverses.

The driver scans the mirrors in succession – side mirror, rear vision mirror, side mirror and then back again. She intends to reverse about 30 metres, parking next to a fuel tank, where she’ll wipe down the dusty bus between tours.

But after about 10 metres, she feels the left rear wheels rise up over something. A Southern Discoveries staff member, Mei Yen “Jasmine” Lee, yells from the woolshed door. She sees Hyde pinned under the back wheels. The driver pulls forward, turns the vehicle off, and gets out. Hyde is lying behind the bus, bleeding from the head.

(One of the Thai tourists saw Hyde walk towards the rear of the bus but thought nothing of it. The driver later tells police: “I felt a bump and thought it was a dog. I saw the dog tied up and thought it was a backpack. I then heard him yelling.” She adds: “I can’t understand why he didn’t hear the beeping.”)

Hyde’s chest looks flat, with tread marks across it. His breathing is laboured. He asks for oxygen – and his mobile phone. He rings his wife, Jurow, who’s in Queenstown.

“I’ve been run over,” he says. “I think I’m going to need mouth to mouth.” Then he says: “I love you. I love you.”

Hyde dies in the rescue helicopter, while being flown to hospital, the victim of a driver’s blind spot. But perhaps the problem is broader than that.

A Newsroom investigation into this accident raises many questions – about Southern Discoveries, about government oversight, and justice for Richard Hyde. (While the bus involved in the accident is known as a “Rosa”, it’s part of Mitsubishi’s Fuso range. In August, the Government announced an investigation into bus safety after three Fuso buses crashed in the North Island in 11 days. A crash in July in the Tongariro National Park killed 11-year-old Hannah Francis.)

The Mt Nicholas accident happened two weeks after the new Health and Safety at Work Act came into force. Yet WorkSafe, the government’s health and safety regulator, never investigated.

Newsroom has reviewed Southern Discoveries documents, court judgments and transcripts. Today we’ll report, for the first time, a coroner’s recommendation to tighten safety on tourist buses that’s yet to be implemented. We’ve spoken to several people who believe WorkSafe hasn’t done its job.

Tourism is New Zealand’s biggest export earner, the success of which is crucial for the country’s international reputation. Some people are saying tourism has its own safety blind spot.

Passengers board Southern Discoveries’ catamaran Spirit of Queenstown at St Omer Wharf. Photo: David Williams

Southern Discoveries started taking tourists to Mt Nicholas Station in January 2014. The company, owned by the Rich Lister Skeggs family, called it “an unrivalled opportunity to access New Zealand’s stunning back country”.

The Mt Nic tour was a clear shot at rival company Real Journeys, which runs the TSS Earnslaw steam ship across the lake to Walter Peak. Passive tourism was taking off in a resort better known for its adventure pursuits. But progress was slow. Sometimes the Spirit of Queenstown sailed with a handful of paying customers.

The driver whose bus ran over Richard Hyde started in November 2014. She was a veteran, having had her commercial passenger licence endorsement for 30 years and having driven for several Queenstown tourist operations.

(Newsroom can’t name her because a district court judge granted her permanent name suppression.)

For her Mt Nicholas training drive, she was accompanied by Southern Discoveries’ Queenstown operations manager Douglas Keith and HR manager Martin Ewen. She thinks they just wanted to be sure she could drive a 20-seater bus.

“I got in the bus, drove out to the old cottage, learnt what I had to say, drove up to the airstrip, looked around, learnt what I had to say, came back to the woolshed, and reversed the bus into the parking area. And that was my training.”

The only direction she was given at the woolshed car park, she says, was not to drive over the grass. “Every single driver that I know reversed at some stage, back from the woolshed.”

She never saw a hazards register. No one asked her to sign anything after the training drive. “We were basically left alone and told to get on with it.”

The driver says: “It was pretty cowboy-ish, I’d have to say.”

A position description warns the tour operates in an isolated location, saying: “Be observant at all times and fully aware of the potential hazards.” But the operating manual for the tour was basic, with the only health and safety mention for drivers: “Safety briefing: seat belts.” (“Be enthusiastic,” the manual said. “It might be your thousandth trip but it is their one and only.”)

The ex-driver says Keith, the then-operations manager who is now the firm’s fleet and safety manager, drove Southern Discoveries buses without the appropriate licence. “Occasionally the farm tour guides, if it was raining and they couldn’t spend enough time outside, they’d get in the bus and drive people down the road, without licences. I don’t think the company ever knew that – that’s how slack it was.”

In a statement, Southern Discoveries CEO Tim Hunter confirms an employee, whom he won’t name, drove tours without a P licence “on a handful of occasions” in 2014 and 2015. (The ex-driver is certain it was more than 10.) After becoming aware of the situation in December last year, the company investigated and conducted a disciplinary process. “I can confirm that we’ve put in place processes which make it virtually impossible for this to happen again.”

(Hunter ignored a question about Keith’s health and safety qualifications.)

Early last year, Southern Discoveries engaged an expert driver trainer to assess and train recruits, oversee inductions and complete on-road assessments annually. The company continually evolves and improves its standards, Hunter says, to ensure it delivers best practice. “All our staff know what is expected of them and we have no tolerance for anyone not meeting our clear standards.”

The ex-driver – who calls Hunter’s statement “codswallop” – says the Mt Nic accident is typical of Queenstown pushing the limits. “There has to be an accident before things are done properly.”

(Kate Cocks, of Mt Nicholas Station, says she and her family have little to do with Southern Discoveries. “They’re the professional tourism operators; we’re farmers.” She adds: “They run their business here and they have their own procedures which, I’m sure, as probably with most tourism operators, they’re constantly working to improve what they’re doing.”)

Richard Hyde ran against Edward M. Kennedy in a US Senate race in 2000. Photo: Supplied

The week after the Mt Nicholas accident, Southern Discoveries calls a meeting with the driver. She’s stood down from bus work and moved to the Queenstown visitors’ centre. Hunter and Keith tell the bus driver the company will pay her legal fees and for counselling.

Five months later, Anderson Lloyd partner Nic Soper is appointed to represent her. In the first few months, however, her legal meetings are also attended by a company representative and she has to question Soper through the company.

Soper is confident the case won’t go ahead. He tells Newsroom he thought that when police reviewed the information from the defence case they would find the driver’s actions were those of a reasonable and competent motorist. The initial feedback from police was they were giving “very real consideration to that”, he says.

The view that the driver did little wrong seems to gel with Southern Discoveries’ internal investigation. The draft report, completed on May 9, 2016, arrives at three causes:

Hyde’s decision to exit the vehicle and move away from tour party;

The inability of the driver to see the victim in her blind spot;

Hyde’s failure to respond to the reversing beeper and move away from danger. (The report says: “This raises the possibility that the victim may have in some way become incapacitated or distracted prior to the incident.”)

Within weeks, the company changes its equipment, training and procedures. Reversing cameras are installed on buses. Driver training is revised to include new reversing procedures. More emphasis is placed on vehicle-related health and safety in the pre-departure customer briefings. A new health and safety section is added to its operating manual. Procedures for its Go Milford coaches are updated.

Many of the changes are contained in a memo sent to 4WD guides by Southern Discoveries ops boss Keith three days after the accident. The memo says customers need to be told not to stand near vehicles, that they are to be controlled on and off vehicles, and reversing is banned except in emergencies, “due to the serious risk factors involved”. If reversing is necessary, it’s to be done “slowly and gradually”, and the area behind the bus must be physically checked beforehand.

The ex-driver says Southern Discoveries “had to” find faults. “They couldn’t deny that their health and safety and operating procedures were below par. It’s quite obvious.”

Newsroom asks Hunter if its documentation and procedures were appropriate, why were they changed so quickly after the accident. He doesn’t directly answer.

He says health and safety is a priority for Southern Discoveries and the firm encourages all staff to report hazards and perceived risks in the workplace either informally or at regular health and safety meetings. “In the context of the Mt Nicholas accident, regrettably in the years leading up to the accident none of the three drivers working in that operation at the time had raised the issue of reversing in the car park as a perceived risk.”

Southern Discoveries’ Queenstown visitor centre. Photo: David Williams

Under law, WorkSafe must monitor and enforce compliance with the relevant health and safety legislation. But the way it treats road accidents is defined by a memorandum of understanding with police, that says police have primary responsibility for investigating fatal on-road accidents. Under that memorandum, health and safety concerns “can be advised to WorkSafe”.

As the police inquiry into the Mt Nicholas accident cranks up, WorkSafe stands down.

On April 18, 2016 – three days after the accident – WorkSafe’s Invercargill-based health and safety inspector Terry Keene calls Queenstown police Sergeant Steve Watt. At that point none of WorkSafe’s staff have attended the scene, interviewed witnesses or asked questions about Southern Discoveries’ health and safety practices.

Later that morning, Keene emails Watt to say he doesn’t think WorkSafe can make “any useful contribution” to its inquiry. “I intend to close our WorkSafe investigation as I consider this to be a police matter and being managed by your team.” Keene tells Watt that police “shouldn’t hesitate” to ask WorkSafe for help.

Police don’t ask for help. On August 29, police advise they intend to charge the driver. She appears in court, more than five months after the crash, and pleads not guilty. (Police thought they would charge the driver in May. A May 5 note in the police file states that, after a review, a charge of careless driving causing death is “appropriate”. Police advised the coroner on May 20, that the bus driver is “to be charged”.)

In a statement, WorkSafe’s acting deputy general manager of investigations and specialist services Simon Humphries tells Newsroom that a decision on which body will investigate is based on “which legislation, and therefore regulator, is most relevant to the circumstances”. “This incident was treated as a road accident and so the police investigated, and WorkSafe had no further involvement in the investigation or prosecution.”

High-profile Christchurch lawyer Nigel Hampton QC, who in July criticised WorkSafe for not doing enough to prevent forestry deaths, says the regulator’s decision not to investigate Hyde’s death doesn’t meet its legal obligations to try and stop such incidents happening again.

“It’s extraordinary. I’m a bit dismayed but I’m afraid it is a bit in-keeping with what I’ve seen in other things the Department of Labour, now WorkSafe, have done things in the past and how they still seem to be doing things.”

Hampton says the government agency must promote health and safety, part of which is to investigate incidents to ensure employers have proper health and safety plans, for the safety, not only of the employees, but of the public. “And they’ve simply failed to address those obligations at all.”

Council of Trade Unions president Richard Wagstaff says employers have duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act. “We haven’t fully determined the CTU’s position on when WorkSafe should intervene but our gut instinct is that when there is a serious injury or fatality, an investigation should be lodged.”

But WorkSafe’s Humphries says the law “does not create an obligation on the organisation to investigate every incident”. (He confirms WorkSafe has closed its file relating to the death of Hannah Francis, who died in July when a Ruapehu Alpine Lifts bus crashed in Tongariro National Park.)

Sometimes, police do involve WorkSafe. Humphries confirms police referred alleged health and safety problems to WorkSafe in the case of the high-profile, Christmas Eve crash near Gisborne in 2016 – involving Tonga’s Mailefihi Siu’ilikutapu College brass band – in which three people died. Bus company Ritchies Coachlines has pleaded not guilty to a charge under the Health and Safety at Work Act and is next due to appear in the Waitakere District Court next month.

Queenstown police, meanwhile, won’t say if they found health and safety issues in the Mt Nicholas case.

Otago Lakes Central area commander Inspector Olaf Jensen says: “Police carried out a thorough investigation into the liability of the driver in relation to this crash under the Land Transport Act. As a result, the driver was charged with careless driver causing death. At the time of the incident, police notified WorkSafe and any queries regarding their investigation or health and safety should be directed to them.”

Jensen’s officers knew WorkSafe had closed its file. Newsroom asks directly if police uncovered any health and safety issues with Southern Discoveries. The police national communications team responds: “Police has nothing further to add to our statement.”

WorkSafe limitation looms

On April 3 last year, as the 12-month anniversary of the Mt Nicholas accident looms, the bus driver’s lawyer, Soper, emails Southern Discoveries’ boss Hunter. It’s clear from this email that the lawyer goes beyond defending the driver.

Soper says unless WorkSafe applies to the court for an extension, April 15 would, “save for exceptional circumstances”, be the last day it could lay a charge against the company.

“By delaying [the] defended hearing beyond the 12-month period, the possibility of WorkSafe acting on any evidential finding adverse to the company has been avoided.”

Soper says he’ll confirm the situation with the company’s insurer once the 12-month period is extinguished. No WorkSafe prosecution eventuates – something in which the insurance company has a keen interest.

(Dealing with the insurance company, Marsh Ltd, was a “reporting mechanism”, Soper says. Some of his legal fees “may have been” paid by the company. “The only reporting that I undertook to the company and the company’s insurer was in respect to the charge against the driver.” Hunter confirms Southern Discoveries uses Soper’s firm, Anderson Lloyd, for general legal work.)

The defended court hearing starts on July 4 last year, a Tuesday, before Judge Alistair Garland. Much is made by the defence of Hyde being “elderly” and having a hearing impairment. Jurow told police Hyde fell in Wellington the previous week and his hearing was “slightly impaired”. (She tells Newsroom her husband wasn’t some “geriatric old cuss walking around muttering or something”, that he had a little hearing loss, but “he wouldn’t have missed a bus beeping”.)

The driver enters the witness box on the Thursday morning. Late that afternoon, just before she finishes giving evidence, there’s a key exchange with the judge.

“Before reversing your bus,” the judge asks, “as a reasonable and prudent driver, what did you do to check whether there was any person or object in that blind spot?”

“Physically, nothing,” the driver responds, adding that she ensured the bus’s reverse alarms were going and checked her mirrors. “There is plenty of time between the time that the reversing beepers start to when I start reversing for someone to be aware that the bus is reversing.”

And you were content to rely on that, asks the judge. “Yes,” the driver says. “It’s never been an issue.”

Garland: “Until now?” Correct, the driver says.

Soper follows up immediately. Was she relying on anything else to ensure there were no passengers behind the vehicle? The driver refers to her ex-work colleagues, farm guide Maurice Keith and Jasmine Lee. She says: “I would have hoped that if Maurice or Jasmine had seen someone walking behind the vehicle, they would have told me.”

At the end of the hearing’s third day, only part-way through the defence case, the judge gives a strong indication he has made up his mind – and it’s not favourable for the bus driver.

She has little option. The next day, July 7, she changes her plea to guilty. Soper tells the judge he intends to apply for a discharge without conviction.

Part of sentencing is a restorative justice meeting. But the widow, Jurow, doesn’t want to speak directly to the driver. Instead, she wants her “punished to the full extent of the law”.

(Jurow’s appalled that restorative justice amounted to an apology letter from the ex-driver – “That’s bullshit. I mean, really? C’mon.”)

‘Dodged a bullet’

Southern Discoveries terminates the driver’s contract last September, when the sentencing hearing is delayed. That breaks a promise to keep her employed until the matter’s resolved. The company says it’s forced to cut her loose “given the impact on our business”; with uncertainty over summer staffing. (This is “not unreasonable”, the termination letter says, “and the rationale has been explained to you several times”.)

On October 13 last year, Soper writes to Hunter, about reparation. The lawyer treads carefully, considering Southern Discoveries (SD) is already paying him and shelled out about $13,500 towards Jurow’s expenses, including paying for Hyde’s body to return home and upgrading Jurow to business class.

(Jurow says the company only offered to pay “because I was sitting there distraught and weeping and pulling guilt strings”. She recalls holding a funeral home bill in her Queenstown motel room, with a police detective and someone from Southern Discoveries present. “I just threw that paper up in the air and I said, ‘I’m not fucking going to pay this; somebody else pay this’.”)

Soper writes to Hunter: “While I fully appreciate this has been a very frustrating and expensive exercise for SD, the fact it ‘dodged a bullet’ in avoiding a Health & Safety at Work Act charge, I would suggest, is a pertinent factor in considering coverage of any reparation payment at sentencing. While always difficult to predict on a charge like this, I would anticipate a reparation order of around $25,000 to $35,000.”

If WorkSafe had prosecuted and the company was convicted, Soper estimated a fine would likely have been in the vicinity of $400,000 with reparation around $150,000 to $200,000. Soper signs off: “Leave it with you.”

The following week, after talking to Rich Lister David Skeggs, the managing director of Southern Discoveries’ owner Skeggs Group, Hunter replies to Soper. He confirms that “Southern Discoveries will not be contributing to any reparation payment involved in the sentencing”.

Hunter tells Newsroom because the company itself wasn’t being prosecuted there was no basis for the court to order his company make a reparation payment.

Jurow says her expenses have vastly outweighed a small payment from the Government for Hyde’s death. For her it’s not about the money. “It was just a matter of what’s justice here and I felt I never got it.”

“I believe in the circumstances that there would have been a very sound basis for an investigation to be conducted.” – Nic Soper

The ex-driver is sentenced at the Queenstown District Court last November. But Southern Discoveries and WorkSafe also come under scrutiny – not that WorkSafe is following the case.

Soper tells Judge Garland after losing her job the bus driver has limited means to pay a fine or reparation.

During the hearing, Garland asks: “Do you agree that the company had a separate and independent liability to Ms Jurow under the health and safety legislation?”

WorkSafe didn’t investigate the company, Soper confirms. But he adds: “I believe in the circumstances that there would have been a very sound basis for an investigation to be conducted.” If the company had been prosecuted and convicted, the financial penalties could have been in the “hundreds of thousands of dollars”.

This line is picked up in the judge’s sentencing notes. Garland convicts the driver of careless driving causing death, suspends her licence for six months and orders her to carry out 150 hours’ community service. No reparation is ordered.

The judge says the case involves a “high degree” of carelessness and a conviction was “inevitable” – that the driver “did not exercise the care and attention that a ‘reasonable and prudent’ driver should have”.

But the judge also notes that Southern Discoveries didn’t provide the driver with health and safety guidelines. “If correct, and the police accept that it is, then the defendant’s employer was separately liable under the health and safety legislation relevant at the time.”

Garland goes on to say that irrespective of whether she’d been provided guidelines or operating procedures, as a person employed in the passenger services industry “her duty of care was a high one”.

Today, the ex-driver says she’d check behind the bus before reversing. “But I would be probably the only bus driver in New Zealand who did it.” She still believes Hyde should shoulder “at least 50 percent” of the blame for his death.

“He was standing behind the only vehicle within sight or sound in a huge empty carpark. The beepers could only have been mine. And he stood there.”

Jurow, who used to be an emergency medical technician, has a different view, having seen her husband’s body. “That’s a person who was knocked over hard. And hit his head hard. That doesn’t happen in a gradual back-up.” She feels the driver got off lightly, with “a slap on the wrist and a cup of coffee”.

Southern Discoveries’ bus on April 15, 2016. Photo: WorkSafe

What of the industry itself? What is its responsibility?

Bus companies, or tourism firms using buses on farm tours, are not required by law to lodge their health and safety documentation with any government agency, or have them audited. But that’s not to say some companies are doing the bare minimum.

Beyond its marine operations, audited by Maritime New Zealand, Southern Discoveries is independently audited by Qualmark. The firm’s health and safety procedures were audited in November 2015, five months before the accident, by Safe WorkPlace Systems.

Southern Discoveries boss Hunter says Hyde’s death, five days after he started with the company, has been a “pivot point” for the local tourism industry, prompting “many changes”. Those include extra scrutiny of health and safety plans, technical changes to vehicles and in some cases a redesign of parking lots and reversing grounds. “We have all taken stock of our procedures to ensure an accident of this nature never happens again.”

National regulators haven’t stepped in after Hyde’s death. But they did in the adventure tourism industry after the death of English tourist Emily Jordan, who died while riverboarding near Queenstown in 2008.

Emily’s father, Chris, wrote an impassioned letter to Prime Minister John Key, who ordered a review the following year. In 2010, Key’s government announced adventure tourism operators would be required to be registered and undergo a safety audit. Then Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson said the new regulations would “fill safety gaps”.

Chris Jordan tells Newsroom Hyde’s death highlights another blind spot in New Zealand’s tourism industry. Before the adventure tourism review started in 2009, authorities wanted tourism firms to self-regulate, he says. But, like in the Mt Nicholas case, it doesn’t work, Jordan says – calling it a “dodgy game”.

“You can’t have self-regulation when it comes to health and safety. You just can’t.”

Jordan says there should be common health and safety procedures across all companies. Otherwise, bad companies are at an unfair financial advantage because they’re not spending money complying with health and safety standards.

Newsroom wanted to ask Bus and Coach Association boss Barry Kidd about his industry’s safety practices. But he referred our query to Tourism Export Council chief executive Judy Chen. She says the current transport and health and safety regulations that tourism businesses adhere to are sufficient. (She’s not familiar with the Mt Nicholas accident – “I won’t be able to comment further on this”.)

Jordan’s glad to hear Southern Discoveries put reversing cameras on its buses. “It clearly wasn’t because WorkSafe made them, or was even involved with it after the case. Well that’s just ludicrous, isn’t it? What’s WorkSafe there for?”

Only now, two-and-a-half years after the Mt Nicholas accident, WorkSafe confirms it is reconsidering its role in work-related road incidents. Humphries, the deputy general manager of investigations and specialist services, says: “However as it is in its very early stages – we are establishing just what direction this will take and how it will be used.”

“It is imperative that those driving buses as part of tourist operations are able to see around and behind the buses they drive.” – Coroner Anna Tutton

Ordinarily, when someone’s prosecuted over a fatal accident that would be the end of it. But coroner Anna Tutton was moved to open an inquiry – not a public hearing but a “hearing on the papers”.

The report was completed in April but hasn’t been released publicly. Newsroom reports the coroner’s findings today for the first time.

Hyde died from multiple trauma injuries with severe chest trauma, Tutton’s “in-chambers” report finds. “Had an additional external rear view mirror or reversing camera system been fitted to the bus, it is likely the blind spot described would not exist, and the tragedy that befell Mr Hyde might have been avoided,” Tutton writes.

She says it’s inevitable that some tourists who pay to be taken around New Zealand by bus will walk around and behind the bus to take photos. The coroner notes that the country’s most rapidly increasing tourism bracket is for those aged between 60 and 69 years old, a trend that’s set to continue.

Tutton: “It is imperative that those driving buses as part of tourist operations are able to see around and behind the buses they drive.”

The coroner recommends the Ministry of Transport consider introducing a requirement that “all buses used for tourist operations be fitted with an outside rear-view mirror fitted at the back of the bus or a reversing camera system”.

The Ministry of Transport’s manager of mobility and safety Brent Johnston says it agrees the coroner’s recommendation “has merit” and it’s “open” to changes. His ministry’s leading the development of a new road safety strategy to address the “unacceptably high” number of people being killed or injured on New Zealand roads. “As part of this work we are working with a range of stakeholders to consider the need for new or varied vehicle safety standards, including rear view mirrors, reversing cameras and reverse warning buzzers, for buses and other heavy vehicles.”

‘He died for nothing’

In summary, two-and-a-half years after Hyde’s death, the bus driver has been convicted and sentenced, and can’t drive commercially because her recent licence application was rejected. The coroner’s unpublicised recommendation seems a long way from being implemented. And while the local industry says Hyde’s death has been a “pivot point”, nothing has changed nationally.

Speaking from her Somerville, Massachusetts home, Jurow says her husband had so much more living to do – before his life was cut short, in a moment of carelessness.

“He phoned me before he died, and the memory of that is extremely painful. And, yeah, you think about it every day. It’s been two years. I’ve had PTSD and grief counselling. Two years is not a long time.”

She tells Newsroom: “He died for nothing – he died because somebody wasn’t watching what she was doing.”

Jurow already felt at arm’s length from the New Zealand judicial process – “peripheral” she calls it. During the trial hearing and sentencing she couldn’t find a Queenstown lawyer to be her advocate – not to sue, but to tell her what was going on. She still wonders why.

Nobody in power – not the police, courts or regulators – has taken her husband’s death seriously, she says. The bus driver may as well have driven over a stop sign, she laments.

In the wake of Newsroom’s investigation, Jurow is calling for government authorities to act. “My feeling is if Richard’s death counts for anything, at least it should help clean some crap up.”

Jurow says the Ministry of Transport should move more quickly to implement the coroner’s recommendation. She expects push-back from operators, but says the technology isn’t overly expensive and it might save a life or prevent someone from being injured.

“It’s not that hard.”

She wants to see improved, mandatory safety standards for tourist buses, including making reversing cameras mandatory, and minimum training for drivers. Regular audits and inspections of bus and tour operators should ensure compliance, she says. Considering how “poorly and dismissively” she was treated, Jurow’s calling for an advocate role to be established, to ensure victims’ families get accurate information about the New Zealand court or legal system.

Southern Discoveries deserves credit, Jurow says, for moving quickly to install reversing cameras. But she thinks the company and its management should be reviewed and audited – “especially since the person in charge of training/safety appears to be unqualified for that position”.

It’s time New Zealand started taking tourist safety seriously, she says. “If you’re Albania … it’s understandable that you’re still getting your act together. But New Zealand is presenting itself as a world destination. This whole thing, to me, felt like a banana republic incident. That’s not acceptable.”

David Williams is Newsroom's environment editor, South Island correspondent and investigative writer.

Leave a comment