Three teenagers who died in a car crash just north of Hamilton early yesterday morning had spent the night in Hamilton and were on their way back to Auckland for work.
Police are checking to see if alcohol contributed to the crash that claimed the lives of the three friends and left a fourth critically injured.
The young men were on their way home to South Auckland when the Nissan Sentra they were in left Gordonton Rd, just north of the city, and hit a gum tree about 5am.
The driver and front seat passenger, both aged 18, and a back seat passenger, 19, died at the scene.
The survivor, also a rear seat passenger, aged 19, was in a critical condition in intensive care at Waikato Hospital.
His family were travelling to be at his side while two of the three other families were making their way to Hamilton to identify their sons. The third family was still being sought.
Waikato road policing manager Inspector Leo Tooman said there was a strong smell of alcohol and several alcohol containers in the vehicle.
"One of the major concerns, of course, is the amount of alcohol which has been found in the vehicle and the smell of alcohol within the vehicle and it appears that this crash has been totally avoidable as far as we're concerned.
"However, we have to do inquiries but it's just another example of the tragedy of three young men losing their lives on the roads."
He said the young men had spent Thursday night in Hamilton and were on their way to work at the time of the crash.
"They didn't turn up at work this morning which is where they were supposed to be heading for so that's when the bells started ringing for some people."
Emergency services were called at 5.05am by a motorist who came across the scene shortly after the crash.
The car was heading around an easy left-hand bend on to a straight stretch of the road when it veered left and smashed head-on into the tree.
The bodies of the young men were trapped in the car, which had to be moved off the tree to allow emergency services to free them.
There were no skid marks at the scene.
Mr Tooman said that the last alcohol-related death on Waikato roads was in December last year.
"It's very frustrating for us and for members of our community, the road controlling authorities, our road safety co-ordinators and all those people who do so much work to try and get the message across to young people particularly that if you're drinking don't drive, if you're driving don't drink," he said. "It's such a tragedy, particularly for the families but also for our staff who have to go and knock on the door and tell them their son won't be coming home again."
The road, also known as State Highway 1B, had a 100km/h speed limit.
The section where the accident happened was not a bad crash site, but a stretch further down Gordonton Rd had claimed several lives, Inspector Tooman said.
Neighbour Louise Stainthorpe said she was shocked by the crash opposite her driveway and had tried to hide the carnage from her young children.
She said there were no other trees on the fence line of that part of the road for hundreds of metres.
The deaths bring the Waikato road toll to 18 compared with 28 for the same period last year.