Mum slams drinking culture

By Matthew Theunissen of APNZ, Doug Lang

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A Hawke's Bay mother whose two teenage sons were killed in a drink-driving crash is upset that their deaths haven't changed attitudes towards alcohol in the Wairoa area.

Her sons, and two other men, were killed when their car - which was travelling at speeds of up to 150km/h - crossed the centre-line on a Mohaka Hill section of State Highway 2 north of Raupunga on January 25 and smashed into an oncoming Toyota Land Cruiser towing a boat and trailer.

The driver of the Land Cruiser has also hit out at people who drink and drive. John Mort told Radio NZ last night that although he felt sorry for the families of those killed he was still angry.

"If you're going to drink, bloody well stay there, you don't drive home. It proves that you haven't got any sense.

"If you go to drink and drive, things are going to happen and it's OK if they kill themselves, but they put everybody else into danger, everyone else on the road."

A report by Hastings Coroner Chris Devonport released yesterday revealed that the driver and the four passengers - one of whom was another teenager who survived - had got into the vehicle "wasted" after an afternoon of drinking.

Mr Devonport found all four deaths were preventable.

Those killed were members of a shearing gang - brothers Zyah Giaani Marsh, 13, and Raimon Taire Keefe, 16, fellow back-seat passenger Kennedy James Weir, 49, and driver Watson Oliver Tipu, 31. All of them had been drinking in Raupunga for about six hours since an early cut-out at a shearing shed. The sole survivor and front-seat passenger Vincent Hajnal-Huata received only minor injuries in the accident.

On June 2, less than 30km from where that tragedy occurred, a group of local farmhands - who had been working at the same farm - were killed when their vehicle crashed into a paddock after drinking at a local hotel.

Erika Marsh, the mother of Raimon and Zyah, said the latest crash showed her that the community had learned nothing from the deaths of her sons.

"They just didn't learn and they still continue to do it. I get really upset, I take it personally, really, like my sons' lives didn't really matter because people didn't learn anything from it," she said.

"Since my sons died I've really noticed the culture in Wairoa. It's really shocking: drunk driving, and just people's attitudes. It hurts me to see people not learning from it."

Mr Devonport found that if Raimon and Zyah had been wearing seatbelts they may have survived.

Mrs Marsh said it was upsetting to know their deaths could have been prevented.

"When I look at it now I think 'what the hell were they thinking?'."

The family had moved to Wairoa less then a year ago.

The boys had started getting into a bit of trouble around town so when local farm worker Watson Tipu offered them a few days' work Ms Marsh thought it would be for the best.

"He came over and took an interest in the boys. I did trust him with them," she said.

Wairoa woman Cherie Ultima Robinson told police she and "the boys" went to Mr Hajnal-Huata's home in Raupunga about 11.30am after a morning's shearing.

They drank through the afternoon and she left in her car about 6pm, the others following in a Toyota Avalon driven by Mr Tipu.

"The whole carload of boys were wasted," she said.

The two cars were heading towards Wairoa, about 38km away, and Ms Robinson said she was driving about 100km/h when Mr Tipu overtook, travelling at about 140km/h and entering a bend. She said he didn't quite make the corner and crossed the centre line into the oncoming lane, hitting the Land Cruiser head on.

She said the car "bounced off" the Land Cruiser and ended in a bush on the left of the road.

Mr Mort, said he had slowed down to take a corner when he saw Mr Tipu's car approaching.

"I knew it was coming too fast," he told Mr Devonport.

"The vehicle was in slow motion and I don't remember anything after that."

Mr Mort, who was seriously injured in the crash, said last night: "I thought this was the end of my life and I blanked out, probably 6m before impact."

He said it was was not until he was pulled out of the wreckage that he regained consciousness.

Police told him that if he was not in a Toyota Land Cruiser and wearing a seatbelt he may not be alive today.

"The Land Cruiser being so big and heavy, it saved my life."

He said he had only just come off crutches and was still in pain.

"The whole time, I'm living on painkillers."

Waipukurau man Matthew Robert Jackson said that moments before the crash, when he was about half-a-kilometre ahead of Mr Mort, he pulled his knees up to brace for a possible collision as two speeding cars approached wide on a bend, including the white Toyota.

"They were going fast," he said. "You could really hear how fast they were going. I could hear the motor of the white car really making an effort to keep up."

Mr Devonport said the fact Mr Tipu was well in excess of the legal drink-drive alcohol limit was likely a major contributory factor, and the fact that the three of the four deceased were not wearing seatbelts died while the front-seat passenger wearing a seatbelt did survive "speaks for itself".

Mr Tipu was on a restricted licence and breaking the law by carrying passengers. He had a blood alcohol level of 213 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood. The adult legal limit is 80mg

Roadsafe Hawke's Bay regional manager Linda Anderson said that "loss of control" on rural roads - including impaired driving, speed and fatigue issues - is a primary target of road safety strategy in the Wairoa and Central Hawke's Bay districts.

While ultimately actions came down to individual responsibilities, it targets education and raises the issue: "How do you socialise safely?"

Shearing Contractors Association chairman Barry Pullin said his organisation was ready to take on the challenge to help reduce tragedies on rural roads despite the fact that the victims were not employed by a member of the association.

Mr Pullin says much has been achieved in the last five years in challenging contractors to be responsible outside of work as well as on the job.

But the organisation accepts there is more to be done, and met in Wellington this week with the Department of Labour, Police, and Federated Farmers.

"The days of working hard and playing hard with alcohol involved are definitely over," he said.

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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