The mother of a 5-year-old girl who died after being struck by an elderly driver outside her school said she witnessed the whole incident and has flashbacks whenever she closes her eyes.

“When I see a car I think of my daughter’s death,” she wrote in a victim impact statement translated into English from Cantonese at the sentencing of the driver at Manukau District Court today.

“I can never see my dear baby again.

“Mummy misses you so, so much.”

She recalled seeing her daughter being dragged two to three metres by the car and having blood all over her face.

She said she has to see the driver every day because he and his family live across the road.

“I feel sick when I see their family every day,” her statement said.

“How could the driver be so cruel?”

The Bucklands Beach community was rocked by the death of Pigeon Mountain Primary School student Joanna Kong in March.

Today the driver, Cheng Chuang, a 77-year-old man, lost his name suppression. He was sentenced to 120 hours community service and is disqualified from driving for 12 months.

He has agreed to pay Kong’s family $30,827.50 in reparations, $17,000 of which had already been paid before he entered a guilty plea.

He had to be helped to the dock where he stood listening to a Mandarin interpreter throughout the proceedings.

Chuang’s and Kong’s families were known to each other because they lived in the same community, the court heard.

Kong was walking on a footpath adjacent to the school carpark in between her mother and father on the morning of March 23, the court heard.

Chuang attempted to park a Mercedez Benz in the visitor carpark just inside the gate.

As he entered the car parking space, his foot pushed the accelerator instead of the brake, forcing car to mount the footpath, the court heard.

As the vehicle travelled along the footpath it struck the young child, causing her to become trapped under the vehicle as it came to rest near the football field.

Kong was transported to hospital in critical condition and died from her injuries five days later.

“He tried to brake and his foot slipped off and hit the accelerator unfortunately by mistake,” his lawyer David Wang said.

“Mr Chuang takes full responsibility for his actions.”

A large gathering of Kong’s family sat in the public gallery.

Kong’s father stood with a framed picture of his daughter held at this chest, facing towards the defendant.

He said Chuang hadn’t had the chance to see a photo of his deceased daughter.

Both Kong’s mother and father spoke about how Chuang had reduced mobility due to a spinal injury, and they could not understand why he was allowed to drive.

At one point Kong’s mother was seen sobbing in the public gallery, cradling the framed photograph of her daughter.

Chuang has not been involved in any other driving incidents.

Judge Richard Earwaker said there was a “deep sense of loss and grief” that was made all the more devastating because both parents were present throughout the “tragic accident”.

“Nothing I can do today is going to help that pain and grief you feel,” he said to Kong’s family.

Chuang will not drive again, Wang said.

His family have agreed to pay Kong’s family $30,827.50 as reparation.

$17,000 was paid prior to his guilty plea, the court heard.

He wanted to apologise to the family but bail conditions prevented that, Judge Earwaker said. An apology letter left in Kong’s parents’ letterbox was returned unopened.

Judge Earwaker said the payment is an example of Chuang’s remorse, by “simply paying the amount which may not have otherwise been ordered”.

Family responds to sentencing

A family representative and instructing solicitor said they were disappointed with Chuang’s sentencing and the police investigation into his speed in the carpark.

Speaking to media outside court this afternoon, Ping Cheng said Kong’s family were very emotional before the sentencing, and they couldn’t sleep.

“We don’t want any young children to suffer this again,” she said.

Cheng said her clients don’t want to see this happen to other school children.

She said she has asked police to fully disclose their investigation into Chuang’s speed the day of the incident, but they have not.

She said her clients wanted to know whether or not Chuang’s medical conditions allowed him to be on the road that day.

Community response

An outpouring of love was shown to Kong’s family from the community and staff at other surrounding schools. Fellow students of Kong’s wrote messages of support that were read out at her funeral.

A specialist team was brought in to the school to offer counselling for students and staff, and the library was designated as a “safe space”.

“The thoughts of our school and community are, and always will be, with Joanna and her family,” Pigeon Mountain Primary School principal Ian Dickenson said today when approached by the Herald.

Pakuranga MP Simeon Brown said his heart goes out to Kong’s family.

“I hope it brings closure, but it’s one of those tragic events where nothing is going to be able to really take away the pain which the death of a child will no doubt bring,” he told the Herald today.

“These things have an enormous impact on the wider community, particularly being such a young child, it’s something that no family wants to face and no school wants to grapple with.”

He said the school has been “doing everything it can” to support its students and the wider community.

Safety around schools is always important, Brown said, and one of the challenges of a growing city.

“There have been some proposals around the streets surrounding that school but there needs to be more action taken from Auckland Transport on that issue.”


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