Joanna Zhifei Kong and Cheng Chuang’s families know each other.
They live on opposite sides of the same street in Bucklands Beach.
At about 8.40am on Tuesday, March 23, their two families came into contact in a way neither anticipated but which will stay with them both forever.
Five-year-old Joanna attended Pigeon Mountain Primary School.
On that day in March her parents took her to the school in Wells Road.
They entered the grounds and walked along a footpath past the car park.
Chuang, 77, had arrived at the school in his Mercedes-Benz sedan to drop off his granddaughter, who was sitting in the car’s back seat.
His wife was in the front passenger seat.
As Chuang was pulling into a parking space, he accidentally pressed his car’s accelerator pedal instead of the brake.
The vehicle was propelled forward, striking Joanna and trapping her underneath it.
Emergency services were called and the injured schoolgirl was taken to Starship Hospital in a critical condition.
She tragically died, with her family by her side, on March 28.
On April 29 police charged Chuang with careless driving causing death in relation to the crash.
He pleaded guilty to the charge in the Manukau District Court on May 28.
The two families came into contact again when Chuang reappeared in court to be sentenced by Judge Richard Earwaker on July 27.
Chuang was represented by defence lawyer David Wang and assisted by an interpreter as he stood in the dock throughout the sentencing.
Another interpreter read to the court a victim impact statement written by Joanna’s mother Fen Huang.
Before she began, the judge told Huang he wished to express his “sincere condolences for the tragic loss you have suffered”.
The statement said Joanna was an in vitro fertilisation (IVF) baby and Huang endured a lot of pain before she became pregnant with “my darling daughter”.
Joanna was cheerful, well behaved, and sensible, she said.
“All the pain I suffered was worth it. She brought endless joy to our family.”
Joanna’s mother said she witnessed the entire incident when Chuang’s car struck her daughter.
She saw Joanna being sent flying two to three metres away due to the impact.
“The car continued to hit our daughter and ran her over. I felt very helpless.
“My husband tried his best to lift the car up.
“I saw my daughter’s face full of blood and was filled with a sense of despair.”
Huang said her daughter had a heartbeat but at the hospital a doctor told her there was not much hope.
She sees the image of how her daughter was injured again and again with “tears running down my face”.
She was prescribed sleeping pills by a doctor on the fifth day her daughter spent in hospital and slept for a couple of hours.
“Whenever I think of her being hit by the car I feel like I have no soul in my body,” she said.
“My little angel was taken away from me.
“My daughter was just five-years-old and had only just begun to know the beauty of the world.”
She asked why Chuang, who has reduced mobility due a previous injury, was driving at the time.
Huang said her daughter liked going to school and her death “took away my happiness for a lifetime”.
She described her funeral as devastating and said she will never see her “dear baby” again.
“Baby, mummy loves you so much and misses you so, so much.”
Huang said Chuang lives across the road from her family and that she sees the car that struck Joanna every day.
Joanna’s father Yong Ning Kong then addressed the court while holding a framed photograph of his daughter.
He said Chuang was a threat to other road users and should have been driving slowly.
Kong said Chuang’s behaviour had caused tremendous sorrow to his family and asked the judge to impose a “severe sentence for his irresponsible driving attitude”.
After their statements were read Joanna’s parents sat in the court’s public gallery.
Her mother sobbed while her father hung his head.
Wang, Chuang’s defence lawyer, said his client thought Joanna was much closer to his car than she was.
He tried to brake but his foot slipped off the brake pedal onto the accelerator.
Chuang took full responsibility for his actions, Wang said.
Judge Earwaker said Chuang had placed a written apology in the mailbox at Joanna’s family home but it was returned unopened.
Chuang had no previous criminal convictions, had already paid $17,000 to Joanna’s family and has said he won’t drive ever again, the court heard.
“Nothing I do today will help that pain and grief you feel,” the judge said to Joanna’s family.
“I accept Mr Chuang is deeply affected by this tragic accident and will have to live with what’s happened for the rest of his life.”
The judge said Chuang’s car was registered and had a current warrant of fitness at the time of the incident, and Chuang had a full driver’s licence.
He was not fatigued or influenced by alcohol or drugs.
Judge Earwaker said he accepted Chuang’s remorse is “deep and genuine”.
Chuang had immediately accepted responsibility and pleaded guilty.
The judge said the starting point for sentencing was 300 hours of community service.
He discounted that amount for Chuang’s guilty plea, making a reparation payment to Joanna’s family and his remorse.
Judge Earwaker sentenced Chuang to serve 120 hours of community service, make a reparation payment to Joanna’s family of $30,827.50, of which $17,000 has been paid, by August 30, and disqualified him from driving for 12 months.
Pigeon Mountain Primary School principal Ian Dickinson and the school board’s presiding member Mark Eades told the Times: “The thoughts of our school and community are, and always will be, with Joanna and her family.”