Family's fury after meth'd driver kills tāne

By Contributor

Waikato man Karl McQuillan was sentenced to 12 months' home detention for driving with methamphetamine in his system and killing truck driver Craig Searle. Photo / Mike Scott

By Belinda Feek Open Justice multimedia journalist, Waikato

The family of a truck driver killed in a fiery blaze by a drugged driver say they will never forgive him for what he's done.

Despite not being tested until seven hours after the crash on Friday, June 26, 2020, Karl Dee McQuillan still had methamphetamine in his system after his Toyota Hilux veered into Craig Searle's truck early that morning.

Searle's partner, Eileen, also had a few choice words for McQuillan after sharing how hard the past "six and a half hours and 763 days" had been for her.

"Well, Mr McQuillan, f*** you," she said after hearing he was remorseful for what happened, adding that if he was sorry he should have told them sooner.

Eileen said "sleep is elusive" and when she did get some, she continually had bad dreams.

It also brought back trauma from her parents' deaths, who were killed in a car crash just 2km north of the scene on State Highway 27, near Waharoa.

She added that such was the trauma, she had sold their dream home and changed jobs so she no longer had to travel on that road.

Searle's daughter, Lisa Smith, told McQuillan the crash was "no accident".

"You chose to get behind the wheel with drugs in your system ... and my dad paid the ultimate price.

"I will never forgive you."

Searle's sister, Judy Williams, said while she was told his death was quick, it would still have been "horrifying".

"You have ruined everything for everyone ... there will be a day of reckoning and you will pay for what you have done to my brother, Craig."

'Exploding into a ball of flames'

Searle was driving north on SH27 transporting farm machinery the morning he died.

Approaching the railway overbridge just north of Waharoa, McQuillan was heading south, travelling about 68km/h in his Toyota Hilux.

For reasons that remain unclear, McQuillan failed to negotiate a bend in the road and crossed the centre line, moving entirely into the northbound lane, colliding head-on with Searle's truck.

Searle had no chance to avoid the crash and lost control of the truck, which crashed through a roadside safety barrier and down a bank.

The truck then caught fire and Searle suffered multiple injuries, including burns, and died at the scene.

A blood sample - taken seven hours later - revealed 0.43mg of P in McQuillan's blood.

Police then found three large 2-litre containers in his car with what appeared to be remnants of a large amount of white crystal material and a small snaplock bag containing 0.9g of P.

A snaplock bag with 1.5g of MDMA was also found, along with 49 rounds of 20-gauge ammunition and a .308 round.

At his house, police found 93 rounds of shotgun ammunition and a .22 along with various drug utensils.

This afternoon, in the Hamilton District Court, McQuillan was sentenced on charges of possessing methamphetamine and MDMA and a representative charge of possession of ammunition and explosives.

Crown prosecutor Amy Alcock presented two further infringement notices to Judge Philip Crayton that McQuillan had been given this year - both for speeding.

She said the infringements, one for 25km/h over and another for 6km/h over, were a further aggravating feature.

Alcock also noted McQuillan's comment in a pre-sentence report, that he used methamphetamine for "increased stamina while hunting".

She urged Judge Crayton to impose a jail term, even if he got within the range of home detention - of two years or under.

McQuillan's counsel Jasper Rhodes said his client's remorse was genuine and no sentence the court could impose would make him feel any worse.

"He is reminded of it every waking minute of his life."

Judge Crayton said McQuillan was using P so much at the time of the crash that he could be classified as an addict and there was an "inextricable" link to that and the crash.

"This offence would not have been committed if you had not abused methamphetamine in the days leading up to it."

He said although McQuillan's last memory before the crash was putting ointment in his eye, he believed the cause was due to either fatigue or he was "significantly distracted".

"The crown say you are you someone who has poor judgment.

"I accept that submission," he said responding to news of the tickets, one given as recently as two days ago.

He noted a psychiatrist's report which assessed him as suffering PTSD, likely caused by not only the accident, but also the breakdown of his marriage, business and employment.

Judge Crayton noted McQuillan's offer of $25,000 to Searle's family which he said was a significant amount, but a "token" for them, given he was not here anymore.

As for jail or home detention, the judge accepted McQuillan knew the burden he'd put on Searle's family as well as rehabilitative courses, decided he should not go to jail.

Judge Crayton handed down the maximum sentence of 12 months' home detention and also disqualified him from driving for two years.

He also ordered a plethora of conditions including that he not possess or consume alcohol or drugs, and to undertake any courses as direction by probation as well as weekly and monthly drug testing.

He also gave McQuillan a warning that if he reoffended he would go to prison, adding he would be subject to judicial monitoring.