New Zealand authorities charge driver in crash that killed three Boston University students
The 20-year-old Boston University junior who was driving a minivan that crashed, killing three other BU students in New Zealand last week, is facing charges in the accident, authorities said.
Stephen Houseman, of Massapequa, N.Y., made an appearance in Auckland District Court late Thursday night Eastern Daylight Time, which is Friday afternoon New Zealand time, on three counts of careless driving causing death and four counts of careless driving causing injury. He has been asked to surrender his passport while the case is pending, New Zealand police said.
The New Zealand Herald newspaper reported that Houseman appeared in court with his arm in a sling and did not enter a plea. He was ordered held pending his next appearance in June, the Herald reported.
Neither Houseman’s lawyer at the hearing nor his relatives could be reached for comment on Thursday night.
In a statement announcing the charges, Kevin Taylor, a New Zealand law enforcement official, said authorities have ruled out any drug or alcohol use by Houseman or his passengers. The statement did not say what police are basing the charges on.
“This is not a decision taken lightly and we understand the tragedy will already have had a significant impact on this young man,” Taylor said in the statement. “However we are faced with a situation where three people have died and others are seriously injured and we must apply the law in an objective and dispassionate way.”
Taylor said he has met with students involved in the accident and their families to update them about the process.
In addition to the three students killed in the crash near the town of Turangi, BU junior Meg Theriault, 21, of Salisbury, was seriously injured and remains in critical condition at Waikato Hospital in New Zealand.
The hospital said in a statement issued late Thursday night EDT that she is now breathing on her own after undergoing surgery over the weekend.
In the hospital’s statement, the woman’s parents, Deb and Todd Theriault, who are with their daughter, said they have met with Houseman’s parents.
“We feel their pain and he now has a journey of recovery much like our daughter does,” they said. “We understand there needs to be a court process and we support it.
“But that could have been any one of our kids at the wheel. This was an accident -- all our kids were pursuing their dream. Nobody was intentionally doing anything that would harm anyone.”
Houseman was driving a rental van carrying seven other BU students on Saturday morning New Zealand time that was bound for Tongariro Crossing, the volcanic site used to portray Mount Doom in the ‘‘Lord of the Rings’’ movies.
About 7:30 a.m., the van hit a patch of gravel and Houseman swerved too far right to correct his course, officials have said. He swerved left, then right again, trying to avoid an embankment, according to BU and police officials. The van then rolled.
Some students, probably not wearing seat belts, according to police, were ejected before the van came to a rest wheels-up on the shoulder, debris scattering across the highway.
Three BU undergraduates — junior Austin Brashears, 21, of Huntington Beach, Calif.; Daniela Lekhno, 20, of Manalapan, N.J.; and sophomore Roch Jauberty, 21, of Paris, who grew up in California -- were killed in the accident.
Five other students, including Houseman and Theriault, suffered injuries.
Two other minivans were carrying additional students; the students in one stopped to help while those in the other went ahead, unaware of what had happened.
A BU spokesman said Thursday night that he had no information on the charges against Houseman.
Lekhno’s father, Anatoly, reached by phone in New Jersey on Thursday, said he knew nothing about the charges.
“It’s a tragedy whichever way you look at it,” he said. “It hurts me so much, the whole situation.”Travis Andersen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe. Zachary T. Sampson can be reached at email@example.com.