Farmer pulls gun on man picking up rubbish

By Contributor

Matthew Michael John Turnbull was prosecuted following the armed confrontation. / Supplied

By Tara Shaskey, Open Justice multimedia journalist, Taranaki

A good deed took a sinister turn for a young man who was picking up rubbish when a farmer, angered by boy racer activity, started firing a gun.

The farmer then pointed the gun directly at Taylor Potroz before going on to say he would shoot whoever was doing skids.

The 20-year-old was out driving with his mates when he spotted a littered section of State Highway 3 in Taranaki.

"Fixated" on picking up rubbish, he performed a U-turn, parked up and began loading the strewn trash and empty alcohol bottles into his boot.

But before long, the group heard a shot. They then saw an irate Matthew Michael John Turnbull steaming towards them with a gun and demanding to know who had been doing skids.

"I was scared for my life to be honest. And then he fired it another two times and the last shot was at the post right next to my car," Potroz told Open Justice.

Turnbull, who farms near the intersection of Junction and Plantation Rds where the group was collecting the rubbish, briefly aimed the gun at Potroz' torso.

After lowering the firearm he went on to say he and others in the neighbourhood would shoot "whoever was doing the skids", and mentioned the nearby cemetery.

The 47-year-old has been plagued by hundreds of boy racers congregating and performing skids near his land, the New Plymouth District Court heard this month when he was fined $1000 for the February 26 armed confrontation.

It had been breaking point for Turnbull who has for months persevered with the issue - which has been a problem for the wider New Plymouth district for a number of years.

He believed Potroz' group was taunting his bull and that they may have been connected to a gathering of more than 200 people watching 80 cars take part in the illegal activity near his farm the night before.

While the police summary of facts in the case states the group had "returned" to the site and Potroz told police they were cleaning up rubbish from the event, he is adamant they were not at the car meet the night before. And he insisted that while the group had been clearing rubbish near the bull they had not intentionally scared it.

He was left shaken by what he described as Turnbull's "reckless" actions.

"I was just picking up rubbish. I just go around the community and pick up all this rubbish at different places," he said.

Potroz' parents, who preferred not to be named, said their son has ADHD and Asperger's Syndrome which sees him "think outside the box" and become "fixated" on things, such as cleaning up rubbish.

"He's been doing it for a while. It's not everyone's buzz but he's doing a good thing," his father said.

Potroz, of Stratford, said he was not a boy racer himself but believed a skid pad needed to be created so those who took part in the activity had somewhere to go.

The family understood Turnbull's frustration but said they felt his response was over the top and dangerous.

"He's taken it out on some people who have got nothing to do with what's been happening," Potroz' father said.

The recommended sentence for Turnbull, who has not responded to Open Justice's request for an interview, was community work and reparation.

The court was given a number of letters describing the impact the boy racer activity had on the community and on Turnbull and his family.

Judge Phillip Cooper said the offending was out of character and driven by extreme frustration before fining Turnbull $1000 and ordering forfeiture of the gun on a charge of presenting a firearm at a person.

He was convicted and discharged on a count of reckless discharge of a firearm.

Potroz said the outcome was too lenient and he has never received an apology from Turnbull.

The frustration over the unrelenting issues with boy racers is shared by many in the district.

There's been a death, injuries, court cases, damaged police vehicles and even a recent bylaw change to prevent the activity in an urban area but still, the decade-old problem refuses to subside.

Federated Farmers Taranaki is concerned the increasing illegal congregations in rural areas has heightened the threat of crime to people and livestock.

"Farmers are increasingly frustrated and disappointed by what appears to be little or no action taken against the boy racer behaviour," president Mark Hooper said in a statement following Turnbull's sentencing.

Hooper said bylaws prohibiting boy racers in urban areas was shifting the issue to rural areas, where "the lack of police resources means nothing is done."

While the group did not recommend farmers take matters into their own hands, it understood the anxiety it was causing, he said.

A police spokesperson said Taranaki police continue to target risky behaviour from "anti-social road users" participating in illegal street racing.

"We will be focusing on those who have no regard for road safety and the residents they are affecting with their behaviour," they said.

Police intend to continue to be visible at planned meet-ups and take enforcement action where appropriate, they said.