Richfield orthodontist charged in fatal New Zealand crash

An SUV is totaled, killing three Utah residents, Waikato, New Zealand, March 10, 2015 | Image courtesy of The New Zealand Herald, St. George News

ST. GEORGE – A Richfield orthodontist who was injured and whose wife and friends were killed in a car accident in New Zealand Wednesday at 5 p.m. NZDT (Tuesday, 10 p.m. MDT) has been charged in connection with the incident.

Richard Barnett was driving an SUV while his wife, Tammy Barnett, and friends Mitch and Ruth Peterson, of Monroe, were riding as passengers when their vehicle collided with an oncoming semitruck in the Waikato region of New Zealand. Tammy Barnett and the Petersons were killed in the crash while Richard Barnett sustained injuries and was treated at a nearby hospital.

According to a report published by The New Zealand Herald, Richard Barnett has been charged with three counts of “careless driving causing death” in connection with the accident.

He appeared in a New Zealand court Friday NZDT (Thursday MDT) and pleaded guilty to the charges. He was reportedly fined $4,500; $3,000 for the deaths and $1,500 in emotional harm reparation to the driver of the semitruck. According to the report, he must pay the fines before he can return to the United States.

The Barnetts and the Petersons were vacationing in New Zealand, along with other friends, when the accident occurred. They were planning to embark on a cruise that was scheduled to depart from New Zealand, Gary Hatch, Richard Barnett’s brother-in-law and a spokesman for the Barnett family, said.

Richard Barnett is an orthodontist with a practice in Richfield. Mitch Peterson was an optometrist also practicing in Richfield.

Mitch Peterson was serving as a bishop for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Monroe at the time of his death, Carol Coombs, a member of his Monroe congregation, said. According to The New Zealand Herald, the Petersons and the Barnetts were on their way to an LDS temple on the outskirts of Hamilton, in the Waikato region of New Zealand, when the accident occurred.

Richard Barnett reportedly turned in front of the oncoming semitruck, which was hauling a trailer, when the collision happened. The impact obliterated the SUV the Utahns were traveling in. Richard Barnett, who was driving the vehicle, was seated opposite from where the main impact occurred, Hatch said. The junction where the collision happened is a rough intersection at the crest of a hill, Hatch said.

The Petersons leave behind two adult daughters, a son who is currently serving an LDS mission in South Africa, a son who is in high school and a son who is in elementary school, Coombs said.

According to The New Zealand Herald report, one of Richard Barnett’s sons is traveling to New Zealand to help his father, who is in the process of having the bodies of his wife and friends transported back to Utah for burial. Because Barnett is a tourist in New Zealand, authorities reportedly expedited the investigation into the collision so he could return home as soon as possible.

St. George News reporter Holly Coombs contributed to this report.

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