James Ihaka is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

'Poor decisions' led to death

One nearby resident said the impact of the crash shook his house. Photo / Christine Cornege
One nearby resident said the impact of the crash shook his house. Photo / Christine Cornege

A Hamilton teenager is dead and his 14-year-old mate was in Waikato Hospital with critical injuries last night because of a series of poor decisions, say police.

Rocky Hepi of Hamilton died shortly after he fled from police and lost control of a car, colliding head-on with a rock wall.

The 17-year-old, who had stolen the car a few hours earlier and was on a learner's licence, was thrown from the car as it ricocheted off the wall and came to a halt in the middle of Baverstock Rd, on the outskirts of Hamilton West, early yesterday.

His 14-year-old mate, who police said was "partially restrained" in the front passenger seat, suffered critical leg injuries and a 15-year-old girl, who was in the rear and wearing a seatbelt, walked away from the crash.

The Herald spoke to Rocky's mother, who asked for privacy as she was yet to receive her son's body and prepare for his funeral.

Others who visited the scene to lay flowers or quietly shed tears gave differing accounts about Rocky, who was known to police.

A female relative said he was a good boy who came from a good family, many of whom found out about the tragedy via Facebook.

But a teenager who claimed to be Rocky's cousin said he was "a bit of a troublemaker".

Waikato district commander Win van der Velde said an officer spotted the youth driving with no headlights in Rotokauri Rd and activated his lights and siren at 1.48am.

He called the police northern communications centre but gave up his pursuit about 15 seconds later when the teenager increased his speed and began driving erratically.

The officer drove over a hill a short distance later and saw the crash.

People living close to the scene heard the car skidding, the sound of the vehicle mounting the kerb and grass and then a "sickening" crash.

One man, who asked not to be named, said the collision caused his entire house to shake.

"There was just this really low roar and you knew whoever was driving that car was fanging it and then I heard the wheels screech briefly before this 'boom!"'

Mr van der Velde said the incident reflected "a series of poor decisions" by the driver and left behind a number of victims including his family, friends, the car's owner and the police officer, who was traumatised.

"He was looking to simply do a stop of a vehicle with no headlights on but he has ended up nursing and effectively watching the young man die - and that takes a bit to deal with."

District road policing manager Inspector Marcus Lynam said that while investigations by police, the Independent Police Complaints Authority and the coroner were in their early stages, he was confident the appropriate procedures in managing the fleeing driver were followed.

- NZ Herald

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