WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — A 63-year-old Wisconsin heart surgeon who was on vacation in New Zealand with his wife pleaded guilty to careless driving charges Tuesday after police say he caused an accident while attempting a U-turn on a coastal highway, killing two people and injuring four others.
Kenneth Wolnak faces a maximum of three months in jail on each of the six charges after pleading guilty at the Nelson District Court. Wolnak’s lawyer Tony Bamford says he doesn’t expect Wolnak to serve jail time but rather to potentially meet with the victims or their families as part of a restorative justice procedure. He is to be sentenced next month.
“He’s coming to terms with the result of his actions,” Bamford said. “It’s a challenge for a man who has spent most of his life saving lives.”
Wolnak, who works at Mercyhealth in Janesville, Wisconsin, rented a Toyota SUV in Christchurch in mid-February and traveled extensively around New Zealand’s South Island with his wife Elizabeth, according to a police summary of facts.
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On the morning of Feb. 27 the couple left to drive toward the Abel Tasman National Park but set off in the wrong direction down the highway, according to police. After driving about two kilometers (1.2 miles), Wolnak pulled over and then attempted a U-turn, colliding with a truck driving the opposite direction. The truck then careened across the center line and into oncoming traffic, police said.
A 41-year-old man who was driving the truck and a 69-year-old man who was driving a Toyota Prado were both killed.
Bamford said Wolnak suffered a concussion and has no memory of the accident. He said Wolnak’s wife was released from a hospital a few days ago after breaking seven ribs, her pelvis and her jaw in the accident.