Speed theme in holiday double fatals

By Kathryn Powley

Bystanders and police officers do their best to prevent the wreckage of two vehicles catching fire after they collided on State Highway One at Otaihanga. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Bystanders and police officers do their best to prevent the wreckage of two vehicles catching fire after they collided on State Highway One at Otaihanga. Photo / Mark Mitchell

It's supposed to be a time of new beginnings but 2012 will dawn with four more funerals, and families left reeling with grief at the loss of their loved ones in high-speed road smashes.

Yesterday, friends learned of the deaths of a family man and his beautiful 18-year-old stepdaughter, killed in a head-on holiday smash north of Wellington.

Then there was a young man, married just last month, and one of his closest friends, their car wrapped around a power pole in a fiery inferno outside Blenheim yesterday.

And a woman was charged yesterday in connection with the death of her two teenage daughters. The woman was arrested only two days after attending their Tauranga tangi.

This season has been far from festive for the families of the 15 people killed on the roads since Christmas Eve, and the many, many more people injured. And police say there is a tragic thread running through the string of crashes: high speed.

In the latest fatal crash, two young men died when their car went out of control at up to 150 km/h, crossed the road and hit a power pole. The car exploded, leaving just a charred shell for the emergency services and the men's devastated families.

Gary Alexander Benseman, 22, had been married just four weeks when he sped down Old Renwick Rd, with close friend Bryan James Cooper, 23, in the passenger seat. Witnesses said he appeared to be racing or chasing another car, though police are still investigating.

Inspector Jenni Richardson said police had spoken to the driver of the other vehicle involved, who may face charges. "While we can't confirm they were racing, we know they have been travelling at speed and passing each other," she said.

"What we know is this was a senseless waste of two young lives and this accident was entirely avoidable. I can only hope that other young drivers will get the message that they are not invincible and cars are not toys."

Benseman, who worked at Blenheim KFC, had married his sweetheart Darlene at the beginning of December. Cooper, who worked at Aotearoa Seafoods, was among guests at the garden wedding.

Benseman's brother Phillip Benseman said the family was distressed to and needed time to grieve.

"Everyone's still real sore."

He said they were hoping a police report would be able tell them what happened. "We still don't know the full story."

It was a grisly scene for emergency services. Tow truck driver Willie Smith, who had recovered "thousands" of crashed vehicles for the police, said he would be seeking trauma counselling after removing the mangled burnt wreck from the rural road.

Smith said it looked as if the car had slid sideways for about 100 metres before hitting the power pole on the passenger side. "The impact has basically bent it like a banana."

He thought a power cable at the base of the pole may have started the fire on impact.

Renwick chief fire officer Murray Neal, said the car was burning fiercely when he arrived and the scene was "absolutely unpleasant".

Kapiti Coast crash victims identified

Police last night released the names of the man and girl who died in a horror head-on smash on the Kapiti Coast, that left children's holiday gear strewn over the scene. They were Titahi Bay's Lance Kevin Reilly, 39 and his 18-year-old stepdaughter Stephanie Anne Fox. The two were killed when their black Honda collided with a silver Holden station wagon carrying a family of five - at exactly the same spot were 17-year-old Kelly Thompson died three months ago.

The couple and their three children who were in the other car were all admitted to Wellington Hospital.

Wellington district road policing manager Inspector Peter Baird said the crash had happened about 400 metres south of a passing lane. "A southbound motor vehicle has decided to overtake at the last minute on the passing lane."

The driver had "squeezed" in and lost control, hitting the oncoming northbound vehicle, he said.

The Transport Agency had planned to spend $5 million installing wire-rope median barriers on the stretch of road at the end of this year but decided to defer the work to 2012-15. Kapiti Emergency Medical Service director Chris Lane, who attended both this accident and the one that killed Kelly Thompson, repeated his calls for a wire barrier.

Paraparaumu resident Cathy Lawry said the intersection was a "death-trap". "They need to close the passing lane and put in a median barrier now. How many more people have to die?

NZTA Wellington state highways manager Rod James said it was taking "urgent action" to improve safety on the stretch of road.

"We're really concerned and saddened about the fatal crashes that have happened at Otaihanga. We've taken immediate steps today to improve safety at Otaihanga, by temporarily closing both the northbound and southbound passing lanes and dropping the speed limit. This will remain in place until the end of the holiday weekend," he said.

Fatal crash drivers appear in court

Two people appeared in the Tauranga District Court yesterday charged with manslaughter, after a Welcome Bay crash killed sisters Brooklyn Morehu-Clark, 13, and her sister Merepeka, 14, on Christmas Day.

Phillippa Morehu, 36, and Haki Davey, 17, have both been remanded on bail. Morehu would reappear on January 9 and Davey on January 23.

These arrests followed one of an Auckland man, who appeared in the Tauranga District Court on Wednesday, also charged with manslaughter. The girls were buried after a tangi at the Tahuwhakatiki Marae the same day he appeared in court.

The 20-year-old was the driver of a red car which Brooklyn and Merepeka were travelling in, along with a two-year-old girl who remained in Starship Hospital.

He was in custody to reappear in court on January 5.

In Christchurch, two men were admitted to hospital after a motorcycle and sidecar accident. St John Ambulance communications said the rider lost control near the railway tracks on Annex Rd, near Lunns Rd. "We took two patients to Christchurch Hospital Emergency Department, both male, one in a very serious condition with head injuries and one in a serious condition with leg injuries," a spokesman said.

A 23-year-old woman was in a critical condition yesterday, following a serious car crash near Riverton.

The woman was flown to Dunedin Hospital and two other people were taken to Invercargill Hospital in a serious condition, St Johns Ambulance spokeswoman Elaine Lynch said. Senior Sergeant Dave Raynes said the two-car head on crash on SH99, the Tuatapere-Orepuki Highway, happened about 11am yesterday. Yesterday afternoon the road was closed and police were at the scene collecting evidence. The fire service also attended.

Hoiday toll exceeds 2010-2011 figures

National road policing manager Superintendent Paula Rose said the 15 deaths this holiday period were "horrific".

The toll is up on the 12 fatalities in the past two summer holidays - and the holiday period still has four days to run.It is not as high as the 25 fatalities in 2008/09 and the record 35 in 1981/82.

Rose was disappointed that four crashes had been double fatalities.

"The survivability of most of them has just been non-existent. Speed has been a factor in a number of them. When you hit something in excess of 100km/h that is the amount of impact that transfers to the thing you hit and your body. Humans can only survive so much. It's the head-ons that kill," she said.

The annual road toll was 284, last year it was 375.

"It is the lowest road toll since 1952 and almost one third of the worst year which was 843 deaths in 1973. In the 30 years since then we have increased the number of cars, drivers and kilometres we travel so it is a fantastic result.

It is fantastic but these last 10 days have just been horrible and it's cold comfort for the families of the 284 people who have lost their lives," she said.

- additional reporting APNZ

- Herald on Sunday

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