Fatal fire's cause not yet known

By Doug Laing

The scene of a fire which killed a disabled man in a rural Napier residential care complex early on Wednesday will remain cordoned at least until mid-morning today as police continue trying to establish the cause.

Acting Hawke's Bay CIB commander Detective Sergeant Mark Moorhouse said the scene off Riverbend Rd between Napier and Meeanee remained "on hold" pending the outcome of a post-mortem examination which started yesterday and will continue today.

While the body is yet to be formally identified and no name has been released by police, it is believed to be that of Gavin Hall, who lost the use of a leg and an arm in a 1978 motorbike crash on the now long-closed Embankment Rd, between the Westshore Hotel and the Pandora industrial area.

Mr Hall, in his mid-50s and largely confined to a wheelchair in which he was often seen around Napier, was the sole occupant of a flat in the near-new 10-unit Kahukura centre operated by Whatever It Takes Trust. It is on a block of land between Riverbend Rd and Willowbank Ave.

The flat burst into flames soon after 5am on Wednesday and was engulfed by the time firefighters arrived. They discovered the body in the flat's small lounge after the blaze was put out.

A woman in an adjoining unit escaped unharmed, as did seven other residents in nearby units, and a wake-over trust staff member.

The centre opened about 18 months ago, and Mr Hall had been a resident for most of that time, although he was removed for a period last year after a staff member was assaulted.

While Mr Hall was diagnosed schizophrenic in the mid-1980s, he had issues while at Colenso High School (now William Colenso College) in the early 1970s.

"I didn't think he was coping that well, and because of that I think he was a bit frustrated, and he became a bit anti-authority then," a contemporary at the school said.

In his wheelchair in recent years, Mr Hall was frequently seen in such thoroughfares as Hastings and Latham streets, and at times needed to be helped to free the wheels as he tried to traverse railway level crossings.

Sources haven't confirmed that the dead man was not near his wheelchair, but those who knew Mr Hall over the years said at least partial use of one leg meant he had limited mobility without the chair.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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