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Student Pleads Guilty to Careless Driving in New Zealand Crash

Margaret Theriault, seriously injured, returns to United States

| From BU Today | By Rich Barlow

Stephen Houseman (SHA’13) (center) arrives at Auckland District Court on June 13, where he pleaded guilty to careless driving charges. Photo by Grahame Cox/Fairfax Media

Stephen Houseman (SHA’13), the driver of a minivan that rolled over on a New Zealand highway, killing three BU students, received a six-month driving ban in New Zealand, but no jail time, after pleading guilty on June 13 to careless driving.

Margaret Theriault (SMG’13), meanwhile, who was seriously injured in the crash, left New Zealand the same day with her parents, after being discharged from Waikato Hospital, where she had been treated for a head injury.

Houseman was driving one of three vans carrying 26 study abroad students on May 11 when, according to New Zealand police investigators, his van veered off the road, then rolled several times after he tried to correct his course. Daniela Lekhno (SMG’13), Roch Jauberty (CAS’14), and Austin Brashears (ENG’13) died in the crash, and five students were injured.

Houseman pleaded guilty in Auckland District Court to seven counts of careless driving causing injury or death. Each count carried a maximum penalty of three months in jail. According to New Zealand media quoted by WBUR, BU’s NPR station, Judge Brook Gibson called the situation a “case where the carelessness was slight but the outcome was massive.” BU students, their parents, and a U.S. diplomat attended court to support Houseman, the station reported.

On campus, while some students found the sentence surprisingly lenient, most interviewed said it was appropriate.

“He’s already gone through a lot with what happened,” said Tim Keane (CAS’13). “He has to live with the injuries and death he caused. Would throwing him in jail really punish him more than he has been?”

Keya Vakil (COM’13) felt the same way. “It was just a really tragic accident,” he said. “It would make a sad situation sadder if he served jail time, and I’m glad he’s released and coming back.” Kelly Dickinson (CAS’13, COM’13) said she wondered if Houseman would have received a more severe sentence in a U.S. court.

Margaret Theriault (SMG’13), who was seriously injured in the crash, left New Zealand on June 13 with her parents, after being discharged from Waikato Hospital. Photo courtesy of the Theriault family

Andrew Berkman (SMG’13), who studied with Theriault (right) in Sydney and had worked with her as a School of Management teaching assistant last year, said he believes the sentence was appropriate. “I’m happy Stephen will be able to return to the United States to spend time with his friends and family after what has been a tremendously difficult month for the entire BU community,” Berkman said. “I know he was very close with Austin and loved going on trips around New Zealand with him and many other students in the Auckland program.”

In a statement released before the family left New Zealand, Theriault’s parents thanked the staff at Waikato Hospital, as well as all New Zealanders, for the care given to their daughter.

“The lives of all the families of this wonderful group of young students were turned upside down, and we continue to support each other as we move forward,” they said. “It has been a much different journey than what these adventurous students had originally planned. Our experiences have taught us to look at the world through very different eyes.…We know in our hearts that Meg will work to heal and return to finish her studies at Boston University.”

Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore (SED’89) said that returning to BU was a decision to be made by both Theriault and Houseman. “Certainly, we look forward to them coming back,” he said. “I’m really grateful she’s on her way back and I keep her and her family, and the other students who were injured, in my thoughts and prayers.” Elmore also lauded the judge for what he called the fairness of the sentence, and said he was impressed by Houseman’s courtroom demeanor toward the families of the victims: “Stephen to me looked like a model of poise. I’m very proud of this young man in terms of the way he handled this.”

The three-vehicle caravan was day-tripping to scenic Tongariro Crossing, a location used in the Lord of the Rings movie. All of the students in the van were enrolled in BU’s study program in Auckland except Theriault, who was visiting from her study program in Sydney, Australia.

Amy Laskowski and Andreia DeVries (CAS’13, COM’13) assisted in reporting for this article.

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