RICHFIELD — A Utah man has been charged in connection with a fatal car crash in New Zealand that resulted in the death of his wife and two friends, but he will be allowed to return home after paying a fine.
New Zealand authorities reached an agreement to allow Richard Barnett, 56, of Richfield, to pay a $4,500 fine and then return to the United States without serving jail time, said Kenneth Thomas, a regional leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Richfield.
New Zealand police say in a news release that Barnett was charged with three counts of careless driving causing death. Barnett is a city councilman in Richfield and bishop of his Mormon congregation.
It appears Barnett turned his SUV into the path of an oncoming truck in the March 11 crash that occurred near Hamilton, a city about 75 miles south of Auckland, police said. The cause of the crash has not yet been determined, police said.
Barnett, an orthodontist, suffered a few broken ribs but is doing OK physically, Thomas said.
A funeral service is planned next week for Barnett's wife, Tamara Barnett. Ruth-Ann and Mitchell Peterson of Monroe were killed in the crash, New Zealand police say. The Peterson's were vacationing with the Barnetts.
Richard Barnett was in a New Zealand court Friday, where he pleaded guilty to the charges, the New Zealand Herald newspaper reports.
His attorney, Tom Sutcliffe, told the judge that Barnett was trying to arrange to get the bodies of his wife and friends home. He said his oldest son was en route to New Zealand to help, the newspaper reported.
Barnett was too upset to speak publicly, Sutcliffe said, but wanted to express his gratitude for kindness and support from locals and authorities, the newspaper reports.
Barnett is expected home this week, Thomas said. He is not expected to have any lingering legal issues in New Zealand.
Thomas called the events a shock and tragedy for the small neighboring Sevier County communities of Richfield and Monroe.
He said the Barnetts are good people who served the church and the community. Mitchell Peterson was an optometrist, he said.
"Everybody is really shocked and saddened and going through mourning at the loss of close friends," Thomas said. "It's a difficult thing for the community to experience tragedy, especially this far away from home."