Police award for heroine haunted by road carnage

By Simon O'Rourke

When Tracey Houghton hears the awful sound of a road smash near her Waikato farmhouse she no longer rushes out with husband Brent to help.

The lasting effects of the country's second-worst fatal accident are just too much to bear and she remains "too tender" to deal with any reminders.

Nine people were killed in the May 18, 2005, tragedy near Morrinsville.

Today police will award Mrs Houghton with the commissioner's "certificate of appreciation" for her role in the aftermath.

Fewer than 20 such awards are given to civilians by Commissioner Howard Broad each year.

Living just 150m from where the crash happened, Mrs Houghton was one of the first two people on the scene that day. "I'm surprised [by the award] because I can't remember exactly what I did. I think a big part of it was that I was calm and that probably helped out other people at the scene.

"It was just carnage, there were bits of vehicle and people everywhere. I ran through checking people to see if anyone was still alive. One man had a pulse but died there, and a girl who was still alive managed to live for a couple of days. I was with her and I tried to arrange her so that she could breathe okay."

The bend where the crash between a large truck carrying timber and a van full of tourists looks innocent enough.

Signs warning motorists to slow down to 95km/h are prominent, but you have to take a closer look to see the small memorial along a fenceline of pongas.

The road, through the eastern straights of the Waikato, is commonly used by commuters travelling between Auckland and Rotorua or Taupo.

Waikato Police District Commander, Superintendent Kelvin Powell, who will present the certificate, said the award was recognition of Mrs Houghton's "single-minded professionalism" at the scene that day.

The crash inspired her back into the workforce as a mental health nurse, as she wanted to continue helping people in society.

The Toll

Victims of the May 18, 2005 crash (the country's second worst) - George Gibson, 66, Auckland; Naphat Juiyim, 42, Thailand; Vallore P. Thurumurthy, 50; Suchitra Thurumurthy, 42; Ahalya Thurumurthy, 20; Urmila Thurumurthy, 18 (all India); Gregory James Megas, 57; Donna Lee Megas, 45 (both US); Robert Sylvaine Michel Besse, 58, (France).

The country's worst fatal crash happened in February 1963 when a bus carrying 35 people plunged down a 30m slope on the Brynderwyn Hills north of Auckland. Fifteen people lost their lives.

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