Car ploughs into historic hotel

By Peter de Graaf

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An out-of-control car came close to demolishing one of Northland's oldest hotels when it skittled all but two of the pillars holding up its first floor verandah.


The bizarre accident occurred about 11.30pm on Thursday when a four-wheel-drive heading south through Kawakawa left the road and smashed through five of the seven steel pillars holding up the Star Hotel's verandah and a first floor room.


That left the balcony of the 1879 pub teetering precariously, supported only by two posts at the far end of the building. The vehicle would have kept going but for a heavy concrete planter in front of the second-to-last pillar.


Firefighters and publican Frank Gardiner scrambled to find a builder who put up temporary supports early yesterday morning. The rest of the building was undamaged, except where flying pillars smashed a window frame and a sign.


Eleanor Gardiner said about ten people were in the pub, mostly in the pokies room, when it was hit. She was playing pool with her daughter from Wellington who thought it was an earthquake.


''But I knew straight away someone had hit the building. The ladies in the pokies room jumped up, they thought they were going to be hit.''


Mrs Gardiner sent her husband outside while she called the police, who in turn alerted St John and the Fire Brigade.


''It was a bit of a mess out there. The driver seemed a bit dazed, he didn't know what had happened.''


Guests staying at the hotel rushed downstairs while Mrs Gardiner made sure people kept off the verandah.


''It was a bit of a shock, but now it's an inconvenience more than anything. And it affects the look of a historic building.''


Sergeant Nathan Davis, of Kawakawa police, said the driver and sole occupant, believed to be a man in his 50s, had been processed for drink-driving. Police were now awaiting the results of lab tests before deciding on charges. The manner of his driving was also being investigated.


The driver was checked by St John medics but was uninjured.


A Kawakawa resident woken by the crash said he saw the driver walking nonchalantly, if unsteadily, away from the wreckage. It was obvious he was the driver because no one else was on the street at the time.


Kawakawa fire chief Wayne Martin said the brigade found a local builder to put up temporary supports and kept people away until the building was stabilised.


The concrete planter box probably stopped the car taking down all the pillars and possibly the verandah itself.


The historic hotel is owned by businessman Gary Wood.

- NORTHERN ADVOCATE

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