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The ‘impressive’ wait for the investigation is finally over

Sophia Crestani’s parents say the investigation into their daughter’s death has been a long time coming.

The 19-year-old Otago University student died in a stair crash four years ago.

Coroner Heather McKenzie’s five-day inquest into Crestani’s death will begin at the Dunedin court on Monday.

His mother, Elspeth McMillan, said she was “glad it’s finally happening.”

“It’s really been quite exhausting for us as a family to have to relive this over and over again for four and a half years,” she said.

McMillan and Sophia’s father, Bede Crestani, hoped the investigation could shed light on the events surrounding their daughter’s death and lead to further changes in the drinking culture.

“We want to know what happened to Sophia in that last hour. We also want to know the circumstances that led to that,” Mr. Crestani said.

“We want to see the authorities take another big step, be brave and do things outside the norm… and make Dunedin a really exceptional place and limit extreme behaviour.”

McMillan said he hoped the government would make changes after the investigation.

“There are laws in other countries about recklessness and negligence that don’t seem to exist in New Zealand… that’s something we would really like to see change. Because why would people stop that behavior if there are no consequences?” Mrs. McMillan said.

Following the death of their daughter, Miss Crestani’s parents advocated for a change in Dunedin’s drinking culture.

“As people outside of Dunedin, when we got there we were horrified by the state of the student flats and the behavior and what was going on,” McMillan said.

He explained that locals seemed to accept the behavior as “normal” but said it “should not be tolerated.”

“Unfortunately, there is still that element of student culture … where there is excessive drinking and excessive behavior,” he said.

“We just want the students to realize that by doing that you risk your life… and Sophia wasn’t even doing anything risky, that’s the sad thing. She was just at a party having fun.”

Last year, the University of Otago unveiled the Sophia Charter – “a shared commitment to the North Dunedin community”.

The bylaw incorporated a variety of initiatives that included informing students about party safety as well as education about two-story properties.

McMillan said he hoped to support safe drinking organizations such as Hold on to Your Friends (HOTYF) during the investigation.

HOTYF spokesperson Louisa Mason said she also wanted the inquiry to recognize the dangerous drinking culture in Dunedin. Current efforts by the University of Otago have been “insufficient”.

“I recognize that no two students’ experiences are the same: some are harmed much more than others,” Mason said.

“I hope people can open up and start having an honest conversation about what the Dunedin student experience is really like for many students.”

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