The partner of an Australian woman who died after being struck by a car in Southland in 2015 cannot be held responsible for her death, the coroner has found.
Tamara Maree Schmidt, 37, of Brisbane, died after being run over at about 12.45am on October 26 that year.
She was lying in the southbound lane of State Highway 1 between Invercargill and Bluff, having earlier been drinking and taking sleeping pills. She was run over by Jethro Carson, who said he did not see her on the road – but did feel a bump.
He pulled the vehicle over and saw a body on the road. He checked for a pulse and contacted emergency services.
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Police later decided there was no evidence Carson had been driving carelessly. It was determined he ran Schmidt over because she was lying down on the road, it was dark and because the undulating nature of the road limited visibility.
Schmidt and her partner, Richard Konarski, were on holiday, travelling in a campervan around the lower South Island. They arrived in Invercargill the previous afternoon and hired a site for their campervan.
Early that evening, they drove to Bluff where they went to a restaurant for a meal, after which they began to head back to Invercargill.
Konarski told police he was driving and had to pull over once or twice in the Bluff town centre because he and Schmidt were arguing. He later pulled over in a rural area, and Schmidt got out of the van with a glass of vodka.
Five minutes later she returned without the glass, took her bag from the campervan and began walking back towards Bluff.
It was the last time Konarski saw her.
He told police he got out of the van and searched for Schmidt for about an hour, without success, before giving up at about 10pm.
He was later accused by Schmidt’s mother of abandoning her daughter. However, Coroner Marcus Elliott said he could not be held responsible for her death.
The evidence suggested Schmidt left the campervan of her own volition, albeit following an argument, Coroner Elliott said.
“There is no law which states that a person must search for an adult who has walked off or, if they do search, how long that person should keep searching,” he said.
During the investigation, police searched the area near where Schmidt had been lying on the road.
In a paddock almost 50 metres off the road they found a half full bottle of soda water, a pill bottle lid and two bags. Inside one of the bags they found Konarski’s sleeping medication, Temazepam.
Forensic toxicologist Dr Diana Kappatos analysed Schmidt’s blood and found an alcohol level of 110 milligrams per 100 millilitres. The legal blood alcohol level for a New Zealand driver 20-years-old or over is 50 milligrams per 100 millilitres.
Kappatos also found Temazepam at a concentration of 2 milligrams per litre of blood, a level she said indicated an overdose.
Forensic pathologist Dr Martin Sage said the combination of the high concentration of Temazepam with a significant amount of alcohol would be expected to render Schmidt comatose.
He said it was possible that the combination itself could have proved fatal, prior to and regardless of the lethal injuries that occurred by being run over.
Although police found that Schmidt’s death was not a result of any criminal action by Konarski, he pleaded guilty to assaulting her as a result of what had taken place in the campervan prior to her leaving.
A District Court judge accepted that what had occurred was in the nature of excessive self defence and that Schmidt had played a role in what had occurred, before discharging Konarski without conviction.
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