A motorcycling photographer was drunk and heavily medicated when he caused a teenage girl’s death on Wellington’s motorway, a coroner has found.
Dee McMahon, 49, and Natalia Austin, 18, died after the Harley-Davidson he was riding hit the median barrier near the Terrace Tunnel on June 28 last year.
A report by coroner Christopher Devonport has revealed McMahon, whose partner was Austin’s boyfriend’s mother, was drunk and travelling at speeds of up to 140kmh.
He was nearly five times over the legal alcohol limit, which meant he would have drunk up to 42 standard drinks the day before the crash, the inquiry into Austin’s death found.
McMahon had been to drinks the night before. The next day, a Sunday, he got up and took Austin for a spin on the bike.
His partner, Monique Elston, recalled giving Austin motorcycle gloves, boots, jacket and a helmet to wear, and instructing her how to sit on the back of the motorbike and “lean with the machine”.
Just after midday, McMahon sped through the Terrace Tunnel about 120kmh, CCTV footage showed. He lost control of the bike 400 metres north of the tunnel, and hit the median barrier about 140kmh, scraping along it.
Witnesses reported seeing first McMahon come off and land in the southbound lanes, and then Austin land on the road in front of traffic in the northbound lanes.
Both died at the scene.
The toxicology report found McMahon had a cocktail of prescription drugs in his system, including morphine and tramadol, which should not have been mixed with alcohol.
Natalia’s father Tony Austin, who has received a copy of the coroner’s report, said the family wanted to focus on her life, rather than on how she died.
“We’re trying to go forward and cherish the memory of a beautiful girl who had a bright future, and who was just too innocent and trusting.”
The coroner’s findings had worsened their grief, he said.
“You let your little girl go and you hope she’s going to be looked after by adults. She trusted them, and they’ve let her down miserably.”
He hoped the findings might save another youngster.
“If anything’s to come out of this it’s that, just because people are adults and parents and homeowners, it doesn’t mean you can trust them completely. You’ve got to use your own judgment as a teenager.
“Just be vigilant, and trust your instincts, and if it doesn’t feel right, don’t get in that car or on that bike.
“Even if you think it may seem disrespectful, if you think they’ve been drinking or whatever, say no.”
McMahon’s close friend Peter Stobbart said it was a shock to all of his friends to get the news of the coroner’s report.
“Regardless of the coroner’s findings, it was always the worst possible ending to any story and we all feel devastated for the loss of both families, but particularly the Austins.
“It’s unfortunate such an outstanding friend, and a person who has given so much to so many people, will be remembered for this final act.
“But it won’t make us love him any less, and we miss him dearly.”
Dylan McMahon, Dee’s son, was still “devastated and still struggling with the loss of his dad”, his mother Carlene Paroli said.
“We’re all really shocked to get the coroner’s report. We’re all disappointed, there’s nothing we can do to change that.
“He made a mistake and chose to do something really silly and it cost him his life, and that poor young girl’s life.
“We feel devastated for her family, it’s just horrific.”
JESSY EDWARDS AND CALEB HARRIS