Three Boston University students including one from Manalapan who were killed last year in New Zealand when their minivan rolled might have survived if they were wearing seatbelts, police said Wednesday.


Daniela Lekhno (WHDH TV)

Constable Tina Mitchell-Ellis told a coroner's court that the three who died and a fourth who suffered brain trauma in last May's accident weren't wearing belts and were thrown from the van. She said four others who were wearing belts suffered only minor injuries.

The New Zealand Herald says driver Stephen Houseman gave a sworn statement that he told his passengers he was not leaving until everyone was buckled up.

"Although not a contributory factor to the cause of the crash it should be mentioned that had the deceased and the seriously injured passenger been wearing seatbelts they could very well have survived this," said Tina Mitchell-Ellis.

The students were in New Zealand on a study-abroad program and were driving to the start of a scenic hike.

Driver Stephen Houseman last year pleaded guilty to careless driving and was disqualified from driving for six months.

Mitchell-Ellis said Houseman had earlier reminded the others to buckle up. She said he became distracted and drove onto the side of the road before overcorrecting, flipping the van four times.

"As we were flipping, everyone was screaming but it was more like a rollercoaster scream," Housman said in a statement to police that was presented at the court hearing. "I just kept screaming 'I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry.' I did not know what else to say."

Rotorua coroner Dr Wallace Bain said distraction could not be ruled out as a contributing factor as Houseman had testified he was talking to passengers and singing along to a CD.

Police said alcohol and drugs weren't involved and the debris indicated Houseman likely wasn't speeding on the rural road when he crashed. Police said it was his first time driving on New Zealand roads and his first time driving a minivan.

Those killed were Austin Brashears of California and Roch Jauberty of France, both aged 21; and 20-year-old Daniela Lekhno of Manalapan, Meg Theriault of Massachusetts suffered head injuries.

Lekhno was a a junior in the School of Management and grew up in the Seagate section of Brooklyn before moving to Manalapan according to the NY Daily News.

The Associated Press tracked Theriault's struggle to recover from the accident, as she returned home, underwent cranial surgery and returned to Boston University in January to audit an accounting class.

The Associated Press contributed to this story