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Innocent victim in head-on crash 'was 18 with a life to live', mother says

By Robin Martin for rnz.co.nz

A Taranaki mother wept as she told the New Plymouth District Court about witnessing the end of her daughter's life in a head-on crash on State Highway 3 last year.

Susan Keightley was giving a victim impact statement at the sentencing of Kevin Ronald Bishell today, which has now been adjourned until tomorrow.

Bishell has admitted charges of dangerous driving causing death and refusing to give a blood sample

Eighteen-year-old Olivia Keightley was returning to Waitara at 6am on August 28, 2018 after dropping friends at the New Plymouth airport.

Mrs Keightley - who had helped with the drop off - was in a vehicle in front and saw her worst nightmare unfold when her daughter's car was hit and left the road in a blaze of sparks.

She said she turned around and began frantically looking for Olivia.

"I could hear the horn screaming and I called 111 and used the torchlight on my phone tried to find where she had disappeared to.

"I looked in the car with my beautiful girl inside and felt that feeling that no mother ever wants to feel. I instinctively knew she was gone. I said it out loud 'she's dead'."

"Every night I've dreamt of that moment, living it over and over. It's a memory no one wants, let alone to have flashback of."

Shaun and Susan Keightley outside court. Source: RNZ / Robin Martin

Mrs Keightley said Olivia was a unique and confident young woman with a contagious laugh, who been lost in the prime of her life.

"She was 18 with a life to live."

Olivia's father Shaun said his daughter was a "ray of sunshine".

"She made me smile and my heart warm. She hassled me lovingly about getting old saying 'careful, old man' and now she is gone as a result of a careless action that took no more than a few seconds.

"I no longer receive texts to grab some sneaky Maccas on the way home, or just to check I was okay. How hard and long that drive home is now.

"I don't get those funny loving texts from my girl anymore because of one moment when your actions took Olivia's life."

The court heard that Bishell's ute had crossed the centre line while performing an overtaking manoeuvre heading south on passing lanes outside of Waitara.

The 37-year-old was arrested on the day of the crash, but initially pleaded not guilty to dangerous driving causing death and refusing to give a blood sample. Bishell changed his plea last month.

The Keightleys both expressed their disappointment at the delay in getting a guilty plea.

Mr Keightley said he would use Bishell's denial as a lesson for his surviving children.

"I will teach both my sons and daughters about what it means to be a man, because if I had been sitting where you were, I would've wanted to be punished to the full extent of the law and I would have taken it like a man, because I would've know there would have been consequences to my actions."

Judge Stephen O'Driscoll adjourned his sentencing until tomorrow morning.

Outside court following the adjournment, Mrs Keightley, who is a Jehovah Witness, said following the restorative programme the family were satisfied that Bishell was remorseful.

"I didn't have a lot of faith in it at the beginning, but I honestly feel he is sorry for what he's done and for us that has given us a huge measure of peace. We do really appreciate what he's done in following through in the process.

"I genuinely feel that he has remorse there and that's probably given us more that what a sentence would anyway."

Bishell has had a chequered past and was jailed for his involvement in the bungled burglary at the New Plymouth Golf Club in June 2013 in which Adam Te Rata Morehu was shot dead by police.

Olivia Renee Keightley-Trigg. Source: NZ Police