Man tells of road worker shooting horror

By Anna Leask, James Ihaka, Kurt Bayer, Gary Hamilton-Irvine

George Taiaroa. Photo / Supplied
George Taiaroa. Photo / Supplied

A Rotorua man who was on the scene within seconds of a road worker being shot dead near Tokoroa says the victim was found with a hole in his head.

Police are continuing their homicide investigation into the shooting of Hamilton man George Charles Taiaroa, 67, who was shot dead while manning a stop-go sign.

The shooting happened on Tuesday at 3.15pm on Tram Rd, a short stretch of rural road in the Kinleith Forest area which bridges the Waikato River.

Rotorua man Lawrie Scott said he was one of the first on the scene.

"I was just coming home from work from Mangakino and I came to a 'road closed' sign on State Highway 30.''

He said a detour took him down Tram Rd where he saw someone lying on the ground.

"I was coming up to a one-lane bridge on Tram Rd and there was a dude lying on the road. I thought he must have had a heart attack or something like that.''

Mr Scott said when he pulled over two men came running over saying someone had been shot.

"When I got closer I saw the guy lying on the ground with a hole in his head,'' he said.

"The stop-go sign was just lying on the ground next to the guy.''

Mr Scott said he did not hear a gun shot and estimated he would have arrived at the scene about 30 seconds after Mr Taiaroa was shot.

Several other people at the scene saw what looked like a blue Jeep Cherokee speeding off towards Tirohanga Rd.

Detective Inspector Mark Loper told a press conference in Taupo yesterday a vehicle was stopped, before the shooting, to let a truck cross over the bridge on Tram Rd.

"Once that truck cleared the bridge, a 4x4 motor vehicle drove off from where it had been stopped near the victim.

"As it did so the victim was seen to fall to the ground,'' Mr Loper said.

Mr Loper said Mr Taiaroa's body was removed from the area yesterday morning and was taken to Auckland for a post-mortem examination.

Detective Inspector Tim Anderson said it was still too early in the investigation to speculate about motives.

No one had been arrested at this stage, but police said they were encouraged by the positive response from the community.

Dozens of calls had been made to the investigation team and there was a regular and steady flow of information, particularly around sightings of the vehicle.

"It's very clear that the community are motivated to help us, and the investigation team is equally motivated in following every crumb of information until we find who is responsible for killing Mr Taiaroa,'' Mr Loper said.

"I must stress that just because we are receiving a wealth of information doesn't mean that we don't need more.

"Please do not sit back and do nothing on the belief that we have all the help we need.

"You could hold the key to solving this crime and bring some much needed relief to Mr Taiaroa's family.''

Anyone with information about the shooting is asked to contact Taupo Police on 07 378 6060 or anonymously through Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.

'A big man with an even bigger heart'

Meanwhile, Mr Taiaroa is being mourned by his family as a gentle giant who "epitomised love".

Today, the Taiaroa whanau released a statement paying tribute to the "big man with an even bigger heart".

"He was a humble man who, despite his quiet manner, had a fantastic sense of humour. For his wife, children and grandchildren, he epitomised love," it said.

"George had a passion for fishing, diving and rugby and he loved to travel. He was very generous, always putting everybody else before himself. His favourite pastime was being with his family."

The family say they are struggling to come to terms with the vicious circumstances of Mr Taiaroa being shot in cold blood.

But they are finding strength in being together and by focusing on his life, rather than "dwelling on the manner in which he has been taken" from them.

He is survived by his wife, Dr Helen Taiaroa, their four children - daughters, Rochai, Melanie and Chanel and son, Chad - as well as his three "adoring" grandchildren, Toby, Jada and Georgia.

His body was returned to the family home in Hamilton this morning before being taken to Ngatokowaru Marae in Levin at midday where he will lie until Saturday, when he will be cremated.

The family welcomed all those who knew Mr Taiaroa to join with them in remembering and celebrating his life.

Mr Taiaroa had worked with road construction crews for HEB Construction and had been staying off and on at the Pukeko and Bull Tavern on SH1, a stone's throw from the $34 million Atiamuru Bridge project.

- NZ Herald, APNZ and the Rotorua Daily Post

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf03 at 27 Dec 2014 04:16:43 Processing Time: 1522ms