Witness tells of huge kick to the head

By Isaac Davison

Isaiah Tai. Photo / Christine Cornege
Isaiah Tai. Photo / Christine Cornege

Hawea Vercoe and Isaiah Tai had never met.

But within a minute of their first conversation, Tai struck and killed the Rotoiti principal and father of six.

On Saturday, November 21, Mr Vercoe, 36, was visiting his parents Rosalind and Waaka in Whakatane with his children.

He began the evening at a concert by local singer Maisey Rika.

Not far away, Tai, 21, was attending a kickboxing tournament with friends.

After the concert Mr Vercoe said goodbye to his parents, telling them he was heading into town for a few drinks. It was the last time they saw him alive.

Tai and his friends left the tournament, heading to the Quart House Bar on the Strand, where they began drinking.

They moved to the Boiler Room nightclub for more drinks until it closed, and returned to the Quart House Bar at 2am.

By then Mr Vercoe had also reached the bar.

Manager Grant Webb closed the Quart House soon after 2am, clearing patrons on to the street.

Tai approached Mr Vercoe after the principal spoke to a woman who was outside.

A verbal argument broke out between the two, who were both intoxicated.

Mr Vercoe walked away, heading for a pedestrian crossing. Tai ran at him, punching him with a closed fist in the back of his head.

Mr Vercoe fell to the ground, face-first. The front of his head struck the footpath, and he lay prone. Mr Tai leaned over him, before walking away.

Sarah Barlow, who witnessed the assault, was heading to Mr Vercoe's aid when she saw Tai run back and kick Mr Vercoe in the head.

"He was in a full run," she said. "It was a huge kick, like someone taking a penalty kick in rugby."

She placed him in the recovery position, with towels under his head, which was bleeding.

Whakatane Constable Michael Hayward arrived soon after 2.30am. He could find no pulse for Mr Vercoe.

Mr Vercoe was taken by ambulance to Whakatane Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 3am. He had died from bleeding under the surface of his brain, caused by Tai's punch.

Tai told Mr Hayward he had not struck anyone and his friends told police they had the wrong man. His friends reportedly said Mr Vercoe had "deserved" the beating.

But witnesses identified Tai, and a CCTV camera outside the bar recorded the incident.

- NZ Herald

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