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Driver swap before Kenyan crash

Tuesday 29 Jan 2013 3:54 p.m.

An investigation has been launched after it was been revealed an 18-year-old New Zealander was behind the wheel of a minibus in Kenya at the time of the crash which killed four people.

David Fellows, who graduated from Bethlehem College last year, was driving the vehicle when it crashed and rolled into a ditch two weeks ago. New Zealanders Caitlin Dickson, 19, and Brian and Grace Johnston died in the crash. It was initially reported that Christopher Mmata, a Kenyan local who also died in the crash, was the driver.

Mr Fellows' parents were informed within a few days of his return to New Zealand that he was the driver. However, they did not tell Principal Eoin Crosbie until Saturday. Parents of the other students involved were not told until Monday.

“There has been a human error,” says Mr Crosbie. “We never expected this to happen.”

Kenyan police and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade have been informed.

It is not known at which point of journey the driver swap took place, however Bethlehem College has apologised to families and acknowledged Mr Fellows should never have been driving.

"It appears that on the relatively short journey from a nearby school to the village where they were staying, there was a driver swap," Mr Crosbie says. "This was pre-arranged between Christopher and David. After a few minutes of driving, David lost control and the accident occurred."

Those who remember the crash say there were no concerns about David's driving prior to the incident.

The school's Board of Trustees has commissioned its own independent inquiry into why the driver swap happened.

Mr Fellows, who is understood to hold a full driver’s licence, was part of the first group of students to return to New Zealand following the incident.

It is understood Mr Fellows took responsibility for the accident at the scene, but Bethlehem College's Kenyan liaison Calvine Ominde would not accept that because the last person he saw driving the van was Christopher - and he found him lying outside the van on the driver's side.

"In the mayhem and chaos of the accident scene, Calvine concentrated on the dying and injured," Mr Crosbie said. "This continued to be his focus in the days that followed. "Over that time information was released that wrongly named Christopher (Mmata) as the driver."

Mr Crosbie says the college is "very sad for the family of Christopher Mmata that he was originally attributed as the driver".

Mr Fellows visited families last night. Mr Crosbie says they were not hostile or judgemental towards Mr Fellows, but were very gracious and concerned about his wellbeing.

Mr Crosbie says the school is supporting Mr Fellows who "is bearing a terrible burden at the moment". Saying sorry to the families has helped, but Mr Fellows is “obviously very upset”.

It is too early to say whether charges could be pressed, Mr Crosbie says. However, it is understood both Mr Fellows and the college have been given legal advice.

The trip will be discussed at school assembly on Friday, however Mr Crosbie says the school is trying to continue as usual.

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