Driver charged over quadruple fatality

By Murray Robertson of the Gisborne Herald

33-year-old mother Serena Smith was one of four killed in a horrific crash near Gisborne in October. Photo / supplied
33-year-old mother Serena Smith was one of four killed in a horrific crash near Gisborne in October. Photo / supplied

The driver of one of two vehicles involved in a horrific four-person fatality near Gisborne in October has been charged by police.

Father-of-seven Roland Whitney, 58, faces four counts of driving with excess blood-alcohol causing death.

The accident happened on a sweeping curve of State Highway 2 just north of the Kaiteratahi Hill at 9.15pm on Saturday, October 20.

Whatatutu mother-of-four Serena Smith, driving the other vehicle, died in the crash.

Whitney, the driver of the other vehicle, lost his 14-year-old son Te Anau, his 42-year-old partner Helena Moore, and her son Phoenix, aged 16.

In a cruel twist, Whitney had been getting over a recent tragedy at the time and was grieving over the death of his brother Mark Whitney - who died in a motorcycle crash the previous month - but was excited about starting his new life after getting engaged to Ms Moore.

Police allege Whitney crossed the centre line in his Ford Explorer and collided head-on with the Odessa van that 33-year-old Ms Smith was driving.

Whitney and the three passengers in his Ford Explorer were all from Putaruru and were on their way to Gisborne to visit relatives.

Ms Smith had been returning to Whatatutu as the sober driver for family members she had dropped into the city for a concert.

The horror accident was described by residents as the worst they had seen on the dangerous curve.

The Ford Explorer caught fire shortly after the collision, moments after residents and passers-by had dragged an injured Whitney from the wreckage.

They tried desperately to free the three trapped passengers, but were unable to release their seat belts before flames engulfed the vehicle.

Jessica McMillan and her husband were first on the scene.

"We started to hear a driver groaning and we thought, 'Let's get in there', and that's when the sparks started to go in the dashboard," she told 3 News.

Police praised rescuers at the time for their heroic actions.

Two men driving towards Gisborne on a hunting trip came forward with information that assisted with the inquiry into the tragedy, a police spokesman said.

Whitney will make an initial appearance on the charges of causing death by drink-driving in the Gisborne District Court tomorrow.

He has been in Putaruru since his release from hospital last year. He suffered multiple injuries in the crash.

The police spokesman said the circumstances surrounding the crash meant the inquiry had been lengthy.

"But it has been completed and the charges have been laid as a result."

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