Friday lunchtime, they were a regular family. Mum and Dad were at work, wondering when they'd get to the supermarket; the kids, at school. Friday night, they weren't the same family any longer. They would never again be that family. Candice Reed talks to the real victims of a fatal road crash
JOHN NICHOLS stands on the roadside, arms crossed. grey clouds threaten rain.
Melissa, his teenage daughter, feeds horses stretching their necks over the wire fence.
Metres away there's a cross strewn with bright flowers. Some are artificial, some real. The cross carries a small plaque: Diana Marie Nichols 8.11.1960 - 27.07.2007.
"Look . . . "John shudders, poking at some debris with his foot, "there's still bits of Diana's car here,'"
On Friday, July 27 last year, Diana Nichols was driving home along the Whitford-Maraetai road, following another car. It was about 7pm. She was a couple of kilometres past Whitford township, only minutes from her Beachlands home, when headlights sped towards the two cars. On the wrong side of the road.
The car in front managed to get out of the way, but Diana had no time. She swerved to the left to try to reduce the impact. It didn't help. The head-on collision was fatal. The mother-of-two died at the scene.
Minutes later, John, at home, took a phone call. Don't go out, a mate told him, there's been a death on the treacherous road.
"I said to him that Diana wasn't home and he said, 'She's probably going the long way round'," John recalls. "I didn't think any more of it." Until then it had been a normal Friday.
Melissa, then 16, and Corey, 14, had gone to school. John, a mechanic, was in his workshop and Diana at her Pakuranga Post Shop job.
Diana usually did the grocery shopping on her way home on Fridays.
That lunchtime she'd spoken to John who suggested she come straight home. They'd go to the supermarket after Corey's soccer game next day. "She must have changed her mind and decided to do the shopping anyway," John thinks.
Waiting for Diana, John dozed off in the lounge. A knock at the door woke him around 9pm.
"I remember everything. I remember a knock on the door and the constables standing there. I remember going down to the scene, viewing Diana. I remember quite a lot.
"The shock after identifying . . . it's something I'll never, ever forget."
SITTING AT THE dining table, John lets many of his sentences trail off. Sometimes he struggles to keep eye contact. At times he's on the verge of tears. Melissa joins him, sharing a chair. They give each other strength.
It's been more than a year since the accident. For John and his children, memories are still raw. Each has coped in different ways: Corey doesn't talk about it much, Melissa found solace in her family and friends, John threw himself into finishing the dream home he'd started building with Diana.
John and Diana bought the property about four years ago. For a year the family rented while the house was built to living standard.
They moved in and started to finish it. The day after Diana was killed, John shut down. He spent most of that Saturday sitting and shaking. He didn't eat much for a long time and lost a lot of weight. Friends say he's still losing weight.
Raising the kids and building the house was a way of moving forward and keeping busy. "When Diana was killed we only had the gib up - no paint, no carpets. It was liveable, but it was basic.
"I think she would have been proud of the house. She never got to see it finished but there's a lot of her ideas here. She picked the wall colours and the rest came later. I hope I've done all right."
John was a teenager living in Weymouth with his parents and three sisters when he met the love of his life. Diana was a few years older. She grew up in Tauranga and spent a lot of time around Hamilton.
When her family moved to Weymouth she struck up a friendship with John's eldest sister. The two became best friends; Diana became John's teenage crush. He was only 16 and says the attraction was instant. Diana took some time before agreeing to go out with him: that was one of the happiest days of John's life.
The pair went out for a while, got engaged - but Diana refused to marry John until he was 21. On August 27, 1983 they wed.
John''s face lights up when he talks about his wife. He describes her as a beautiful person and someone everyone loved. She worked at NZ Post for more than 30 years and was well known in Manukau.
"She was so easygoing. She'd never yell. We had the odd discrepancy, but we never yelled because you never needed to with her.
They celebrated John's 45th birthday three days before the accident and would have marked their 24th wedding anniversary a month after it.
These are only dates to John and his children now. Every day they pass the cross on the way to work and school, and again going home. For passersby, it's a reminder of what happened here. The Nichols don't need a physical memorial.
"My day starts every morning when I wake up and Diana's not here. That's when it starts for me. I wake up and know she's not there. Then I drive past the scene, but my day's already started.
"You grieve every day. It's hard to put into words, but it's definitely not easy. It hasn't got easier and I don't think it will. The hardest thing is looking at my kids and thinking, 'Diana is never going to be here to see their 21sts, their engagements, their weddings'."
ON MARCH 23, Duane Leon Tredo was sentenced to 18 months' imprisonment and three years' licence disqualification for dangerous driving causing death, and three months' imprisonment and three years' disqualification for dangerous driving causing injury (the terms are served together). He had convictions for driving while disqualified (March 2007) and while suspended (July 2006).
Tredo was 19 when he killed Diana and has just spent his 21st birthday in prison deep in the central North Island forests at Tongariro- Rangipo Prison. Before the accident, Tredo had been living with his girlfriend's family in Otorohanga. He arrived in Auckland with his girlfriend, Danica Massey, after trading in his older car for a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo.
After some minor repairs on the car, Tredo and Danica visited friends in Beachlands. They had pizza before hitting the road. On a winter night, he was speeding - 130 to 135km/h at the time of Diana's accident, experts calculated later.
Witnesses told police that Tredo started to overtake a Holden ute and Toyota van on a rise near Waikopua Rd. After passing the ute he continued along the wrong side of the road, up a rise, to overtake the van.
"Tredo made no attempt to get onto the correct side of the road, even though one motorist had to take evasive action to avoid a head-on collision with him," says the police report.
Tredo smashed into Diana and his Mitsubishi bounced off the van. He was airlifted to hospital with life-threatening injuries and spent several weeks in intensive care. His girlfriend had two broken ribs and was treated in hospital.
Due for release from prison in a fortnight, Tredo now wants to act as a spokesperson for the police to warn other young drivers of the dangers of speeding and reckless driving.
John says if this works, all well and good, but he can never forgive Tredo. "What I can't understand is why Diana had to pay for one person's stupidity. I find it hard to understand why he did such a stupid thing.
"There was a passing lane just around the corner. That's what's so senseless about it. Every day I ask myself: 'Why did he do it?' "
The effects on Diana's family differ. Melissa is too frightened to sit her licence. Corey wants to be a pilot. John, a speedway racer since his youth, recently entered Corey in a race to teach the perils of speeding in a controlled environment. "I wish a lot of them would do that," he adds.
DIANA'S ASHES take pride of place in the family dining room. On the wooden bookcase there's a family portrait taken in the early 1990s.
Mum might be gone, but she's not forgotten. John keeps her nightgown under her pillow and hasn't been able to sort through her things yet.
Melissa talks fondly about shopping and "hanging out" with her mum and wishes she were still here. So does Corey. "I haven't said goodbye," John says.
"I'm still trying to cope with a lot of things. "There's a lot of her stuff still here and it will be a long time before I even want to go through that. It's so hard. It's never going to be forgotten.
"I'll never forgive him. I don't know if that's mean or not, but I just couldn't. He's ruined my family, ruined my life and a lot of other people's, too.
"And his own life. He has to live with this for the rest of his life, too."