Manukau mall carpark crash: Woman drove into pedestrians after marriage break-up

By Quiyi Tan, Open Justice journalist of NZ Herald

Exterior of the Manukau District Court

The woman who drove into pedestrians at Manukau Mall was sentenced today.
Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

Warning: This story discusses details of self-harm.

An intoxicated woman ploughed into pedestrians at a busy mall carpark last year after the break up of her marriage, killing one and injuring six others.

Kartika Singh, 35, was sentenced to jail at the Manukau District Court on Friday afternoon.

The crash at Westfield Manukau City shopping centre in South Auckland on March 20, 2022 killed Gary Cowley, who died in hospital from his injuries.

Sitting in a wheelchair with one leg in a cast, Cowley’s wife Michelle told the court her last memory before they were hit.

“All I remember was crossing the pedestrian crossing holding [my husband]’s hand, and waking up in agony,” Michelle said, her voice shaking.

It would be 12 days before she saw her husband again, their extensive injuries requiring multiple operations and intensive care that prevented the couple from seeing each other.

He died in hospital on April 7, 2022.

Immobilised in hospital, Michelle could not be at his cremation.

“I’m still unable to walk,” she said, and still has no idea when she can go back to work.

“Our lives were turned inside out, I’ve lost my soulmate and partner,” she said.

Cowley’s two children and three other victims, some speaking through their support workers, told the court of their trauma and the lasting impact Singh’s actions have had on their lives.

Judge Richard Earwaker sentenced Singh to four years and six months in prison after discounts for her early guilty plea, remorse and difficult personal circumstances at the time.

She wrote a letter of apology to the court and wished to say sorry to the victims in person, but her offer was not accepted.

Judge Earwaker said the court did not have psychological reports or much evidence about her mental health, but she was on anti-depressants and had told her doctor of her self-harming and alcohol addiction because of issues with her family.

Singh’s lawyer Rajendra Chaudhry said she grew up impoverished in Fiji and came to New Zealand in 2009.

She has one previous conviction for drink driving in January 2020.

What happened on March 20, 2022

Court documents show Singh was separated from her husband, with whom she has two children.

On March 20, 2022, she started drinking whiskey at 4am before collecting her daughter just after 10am for a parenting visit.

They drove to the park, then went shopping at Westfield Manukau, where an employee noticed Singh having slurred speech, being forgetful and seemingly unaware of her surroundings.

Just before 1pm, the two got back into Singh’s car to head home, and Singh told the girl to text her father.

She drove out of the main carpark, turned left onto the wrong side of the road towards the underground carpark and stopped suddenly to allow pedestrians to cross.

Suddenly, she accelerated towards the metal bollards between a pedestrian walkway and the left side of the road.

The car mounted the curb, flattened the bollards and struck five pedestrians before it hit a large concrete pillar on the front passenger side and came to a stop.

A sixth pedestrian, a teenager, pressed herself against a metal fence to avoid the vehicle but was hit from behind by other pedestrians as they fell.

Tests showed Singh had 300 milligrams of alcohol per 100ml of blood, nearly three times the upper legal limit of 80 at which loss of driving licence occurs.

Gary Cowley suffered profuse bleeding from fractured lower legs and multiple rib fractures. He died in hospital from the multiple blunt-force injuries.

Michelle Cowley suffered a fractured foot, fibula, pelvis and lower back, a laceration to her spleen and a concussion.

The third victim suffered a broken elbow, and the fourth intestinal bruising.

The fifth victim suffered broken teeth, a broken nose and a dislocated knee.

The sixth victim also suffered broken teeth and lacerations to her head requiring stitches, and soft tissue trauma throughout her body.

The seventh victim suffered concussion and facial bruising.

After her arrest, Singh told police she did it out of hurt and sadness over the break-up of her marriage.

“I wanted to hurt myself, so I drove towards the poles.

“I was sad and upset,” she said, “Because my partner left me.”

Singh pleaded guilty to one charge of drink driving causing death and six charges of drink driving causing injury.

Her plea was entered at the “first opportunity”, Judge Earwaker said.

* This story originally appeared in the New Zealand Herald.

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