Jason Alexander holds a framed photo of his daughters, Tayla and Sunmara Alexander, outside Christchurch District Court. Levi Phillip Fiddymont, who was driving when the car crashed in the Port Hills, killing both girls, admitted dangerous driving on Wednesday, the third day of his trial.
The father of two teenage sisters killed in a high-speed crash in Christchurch’s Port Hills described his daughters as “beautiful girls”, after the driver of the car admitted causing their death.
Levi Phillip Fiddymont, 21, was driving at about 110kmh moments before the crash on the winding and narrow Summit Rd on November 27, 2019.
Fiddymont denied charges of dangerous driving causing the deaths of 17-year-old Tayla Alexander and her 15-year-old sister, Sunmara, and causing injury to another passenger, and the case went to trial.
That trial came to an abrupt end during its third day on Wednesday, when Fiddymont entered shock guilty pleas to causing the girls’ deaths.
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Speaking outside the Christchurch District Court, Tayla and Sunmara’s father, Jason Alexander, cradled a framed photo of his daughters as he said he was relieved Fiddymont had “finally owned up to what he has done”.
“It should have been done right from the beginning,” he said. “If he just said guilty in the beginning, instead of weighing up his options first.”
Fiddymont admitted the charges after hours of talks while the trial paused at 3.30pm on Tuesday.
Lawyers went into a series of huddles with Fiddymont, the families involved and, at times, Judge Paul Kellar.
After 90 minutes, Judge Kellar brought the jury back into court and told them he had been “dealing with some issues”, and sent them away for the night to reconvene on Wednesday.
Fiddymont had already admitted a charge of driving without an appropriate licence at the start of the trial.
Following Wednesday’s guilty plea, Judge Kellar remanded Fiddymont on bail, on the condition he did not drive a motor vehicle, for sentencing on January 12.
He ordered a pre-sentence report and referred the case for a possible restorative justice meeting with the family of the girls and the other injured man.
The trial was part-way through hearing the second of two crash expert witnesses who were scheduled to give evidence at the four-day trial – one each for the Crown and the defence.
It had become a trial by experts. The Crown expert believed the car had been travelling at about 110kmh when it approached the S-bends on the narrow, twisty, and rough Summit Rd, and he believed it was most likely that the brakes had been working.
The defence expert believed the Crown expert and the police crash unit investigators were over-estimating the speed, and that there had been a problem with the brakes, as Fiddymont claimed.
Fiddymont said the brakes had not activated properly when he went to use them on a downhill stretch and he had tried to save the situation with the handbrake.
The experts had been considering whether there might have been “brake fade”, and had differing views about whether the tyre marks indicated that the hydraulic system activating the brakes on two of the wheels had failed.
But there was also the issue that if the car had been approaching the corner at the speed Fiddymont said – only slightly above the speed limit – then using the handbrake would have allowed it to get around the S-bend safely.
By then the jury had heard the account of the full horror of the complicated crash that unfolded when Fiddymont lost control.
The car swerved and hit a rock wall, flinging Tayla out and leaving her with fatal head injuries when she struck a steel barrier.
The car then probably barrel-rolled down the bank on the other side of the road and burst into flames.
Sunmara was still trapped in the car when the fuel tank ruptured and the vehicle caught fire. She was badly burned by the time emergency services could free her and she died in Middlemore Hospital two weeks later.
Fiddymont and the other injured passenger had managed to get out the car’s right-hand side after the crash.
And there was also the issue of Tayla’s text messages to her best friend in the minutes before the crash, when she said she thought she was going to die that night because she had never been driven so fast around the Port Hills.
Defence counsel Andrew McCormick had told the jury to be careful in interpreting what she said, because texts were notoriously easy to misinterpret, but they were sure to have been a key element of the Crown case if the trial had got as far as jury deliberations.