Heath Gregory Bell had reinvented himself after a stint in prison on drug offences and was a community worker helping people with mental illness when he died in a car crash.
Mr Bell, 43, and Steve Lawrence Renwick, 42, died after their car slammed into a tree on Mclaren Falls Rd, near the Peers Rd intersection, about 7.15pm on Thursday.
The friends were heading away from the highway when the car crossed the centre line and crashed into the tree.
The vehicle then split in two and both men were flung from the wreckage.
Mr Bell, the driver, died at the scene while Mr Renwick suffered multiple injuries and died in Tauranga Hospital a short time later.
Yesterday, orange paint marked the road at the crash site.
The head of Western Bay of Plenty road policing, Senior Sergeant Ian Campion, said investigators from the Serious Crash Unit were conducting a scene examination.
Police said early indications showed speed was a contributing factor.
In 2005, Mr Bell was sentenced to five years in prison after he was found guilty of possession of cannabis for supply.
Police discovered a sophisticated underground bunker containing cannabis plants on his lifestyle block, valued at $345,000. His 2.1ha Lower Kaimai property was seized by police under the Proceeds of Crime Act.
He also admitted possession of methamphetamine for supply and two charges of cultivating cannabis. After he was released from prison, Mr Bell decided to turn his life around. In 2011, the self-employed structural engineer enrolled at the Bay of Plenty Polytechnic and studied for a National Certificate in Mental Health (Mental Health Support Work) Level 4. He completed the one-year course while working full-time.
Bay of Plenty Community Homes Trust operations manager Stephanie Parker said Mr Bell had been with the trust for a couple of years.
It provided supported accommodation to people with experience of mental illness.
She said the news of Mr Bell's death was "devastating". "He was an incredibly dedicated and loyal employee and he was gifted with helping other people."
Mrs Parker said Mr Bell studied at the polytechnic to further his career as a life skills coach. Family members of the two men said they did not wish to comment at this stage as other family members had yet to be told of the accident.