Tragic loss of four lives from one whānau in the Bay of Plenty

By Herewini Waikato

Today, along Taneatua Road, which leads to Whakatāne, there is nothing but shattered screen glass, police-painted marks, wheel skids seen on the road and bits and pieces of the car that mark yesterday’s tragic car accident involving two vehicles and five occupants leaving four dead, including a nine-month-year-old baby.

Taneatua resident and former Māori All Blacks coach Matt Te Pou is devastated this has happened to people in his community and says this is not the first time accidents have happened on the corner.

“In my time back here at home, this is certainly not the first time there has been an accident in that area,” he says.

‘A horrible scene‘

At 3 pm Sunday along Taneatua Road, a car coming from Whakatane heading to Taneatua failed to negotiate a corner,  crossed the centreline and was struck by an approaching vehicle.  Four people in that vehicle, which had come from Whakatane, have died including a nine-month-year-old baby.

The person in the vehicle coming from Tāneatua to Whakatāne survived the ordeal.

 “A horrible scene, a lot of damage and to discover initially that we thought two people were killed and then to establish that some people had been flung out of the vehicle. They wouldn’t have been restrained and the number of fatalities increased to four,” Whakatāne Police area commander Stuart Nightingale, who was at the scene, says.

Te Pou says It is a tragedy that four from his small community like Tāneatua are e involved in a violent crash like this. “It is just so hard. The community is going to have to pull together but a nine-month-year-old baby dying is just so hard.”

Today residents who called the police showed Te Ao Māori News reporter Herewini Waikato around the crash scene and the smell of fuel was evident, along with the lingering smell of burning rubber. Glass was still scattered across the road and tire marks crossing the centerline got a sombre reaction from all who saw it. One resident, who asked not to be identified was the first on the scene and says, “We heard the gruesome sounds of the impact of the car and ran to help and called the police”.

Police and fire brigade quick to arrive

Police and the Tāneatua Volunteers Fire Brigade were quick to respond on Sunday afternoon and the sight was traumatising for most. Some of the occupants who were killed were local and the other vehicle involved was also local.

Several investigations are underway done by Police this week, who are also providing whatever support they can to the surviving relatives and to the other people involved in the crash. “We are also investigating who the driver was and establishing the movements of the driver, who lost control on that corner,” Nightingale says.

Te Pou, a Vietnam veteran has faced many challenges in his lifetime but he is confident after yesterday’s tragedy Tāneatua will pull through.

“This is Ngāi Tūhoe but at the end of the day, all of those that come to live here and are not from Tūhoe are all extremely close too. The tangi and through the process of supporting the whānau are the only ways to get through,” Te Pou says.

 “There will be a deep look into what caused the accident and from that come the lessons. But at this time it is about grieving and it is about getting together.”

Police investigations

Police will look into speed and alcohol as possible causes of the tragedy.

 “Whether or not alcohol had been consumed by any of the drivers is part of every normal motor vehicle investigation whether it’s an injury, non-injury, or a fatal crash, and it certainly will be an aspect that will be looked at for this one,” Nightingale says.

Police will continue their investigation to pass on to the Coroner by the end of the week.

According to the Ministry of Transport 133 people have died on New Zealand roads this year compared with 106 last year.