Police quiz man over fatal accident

By Victoria White

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Police are interviewing a man who is alleged to have been the driver who fled a fatal crash south of Hastings.
Police are interviewing a man who is alleged to have been the driver who fled a fatal crash south of Hastings.

A man alleged to have been the driver who fled a fatal crash south of Hastings has been interviewed by police.

But police are continuing inquiries, confirming last night only that they had "spoken to two people of interest" in relation to the crash, which is thought to have happened about 3.20am yesterday, on State Highway 2 just north of Te Aute College.

The crash was reported by a truck driver who came across an overturned grey Ford Fairmont, with a front seat passenger who died at the scene.

The dead man was identified as 61-year-old New Plymouth man Hemi James Rapaea, who police described as "of no fixed abode" and who had been picked up while hitchhiking from Palmerston North to Napier.

But extensive searches in the area, including the use of a drone fitted with cameras, failed to find the driver who it appeared fled the scene.

After confirming last night that two people had spoken with officers, police said they wanted to speak with anyone who saw a white Toyota station wagon between Paki Paki and Napier early yesterday morning.

Crash investigator Senior Constable Cory Ubels said the drone was used to make sure the driver had not crawled into the bushes and died.

The drone belonged to Tim Whittaker, Hawke's Bay's only certified drone pilot who filmed the scene and its dense toetoe and maize bush on either side of the road.

"I filmed the scene and covered the ground in about quarter of an hour," he said.

Mr Ubels said it was possible the driver had fallen asleep at the wheel, because examination of the scene found no sign of evasive action taken by the driver. The car appeared to have rolled into a roadside ditch, and it seemed no other vehicle was involved.

A St John Ambulance spokeswoman said when officers arrived at the scene the driver was missing. She said they worked on the passenger but were unable to revive him.

The road was closed for several hours.

The New Zealand Transport Agency said it was the seventh fatality reported on Hawke's Bay roads this year. The toll for all of last year was 17, and the year before 20.

This year's tally comprises four in the Hastings District, and one each in Napier, Wairoa and Central Hawke's Bay.

Less than a month ago Amberley Muller, 19, died on the same stretch of State Highway 2.

The Waipawa woman was travelling south along SH2 near Hastings when her vehicle crossed into the path of an oncoming truck. The Nissan Cefiro she was driving become wedged under the truck, about 1km south of the Pekapeka wetlands.

A 20-year-old Hastings woman involved in a motorcycle collision on SH50 last Saturday was late yesterday in a critical condition in Wellington Hospital's Intensive Care Unit.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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