Steve Jayes, 41, died in a car crash caused by American heart surgeon Kenneth Wolnak. Jayes is pictured with sons Cassius and Lennox and partner Monique Hardiman. Photo/Givealittle

American heart surgeon guilty of causing double fatality crash


An American heart surgeon holidaying in New Zealand has accepted responsibility for the deaths of two men after he performed a dangerous U-turn.

AP reports that Kenneth Michael Wolnak, 63, pleaded guilty in the Nelson District Court today to two charges of careless use of a motor vehicle causing death and four charges of careless use causing injury.

The court heard that on the morning of February 27, Wolnak and his wife left their accommodation near Motueka, intending to drive their hired SUV to Abel Tasman National Park. But Wolnak turned left instead of right on to State Highway 60. He realised his mistake about 2km down the road and pulled over before performing a U-turn.

Fairfax reported that a north-bound Isuzu truck carrying about 6.5 tonnes of scaffolding and travelling close to 100km/h rounded a bend in the road and found Wolnak’s vehicle in its path.

Truck driver Steve Jayes, 41, a father of two, attempted to avoid the SUV but crashed into the passenger side. The SUV spun and ended up in the northbound lane while the truck ended up on the opposite side of the road.

Christchurch couple Kevin Whitburn, 69, and wife Janet, 65, were driving south towing a caravan. They crashed into the truck, which spun and hit the caravan. Both Whitburn and Jayes died of blunt force trauma at the scene.

Wolnak’s wife also suffered severe injuries. She was recently discharged from hospital. Two other passengers in the truck also suffered injuries, as did Janet Whitburn.

Wolnak, who is from Wisconsin, told police he remembered nothing after the moment he turned left on to State Highway 60. He has been remanded at large, with his sentencing scheduled for April 24. Judge Bruce Davidson has decided that the restorative justice process should be explored.

A GiveaLittle page set up for Steve Jayes’ wife, Monique Hardiman, and their two boys, Lennox and Cassius, has brought in more than $18,000.


– Story by NZ Herald