The Rotorua woman who lost a foot after being dragged several kilometres behind a car near Tokoroa has spoken for the first time - defending the man who nearly killed her, and revealing she has been back behind the wheel of the vehicle involved in the horrific incident.
Ana Eriepa, back home and adjusting to life as an amputee, insists Sonny Waiti is not a bad person.
In an exclusive interview with the Herald on Sunday, Eriepa praised the heroic actions of tractor driver Bernie Trumper for helping to save her life and blamed drugs and paranoia for the road trip that nearly cost her life.
She was adamant that Waiti, her partner, who has been convicted of kidnapping her, had no idea she was being cruelly dragged over the coarse road seal of State Highway 1.
"Sonny isn't a bad person," said Eriepa. "I wasn't scared of him hurting me.
He just got caught up in the wrong things - the drugs and that - and got paranoid."
She said the pair had known each other for years and he was acting in a jealous, drug-fuelled rage, convinced she had been disloyal to him. "He thought I was cheating, but he thought that all the time."
As the slightly-built mother of eight convalesced in her tidy Rotorua family home this week, she revealed she had no recollection of dangling from the back of the car, her right ankle snared between the tow ball and the bumper.
"I can't remember the accident itself. But I can remember just before it, jumping out of the car. I don't know why I'm alive."
Eriepa said she jumped because she needed to get out to avoid being killed in a crash.
"I felt him swerving and I got scared of being squashed in the boot."
But she was sure Waiti did not drag her behind the erratically driven vehicle on purpose.
"He didn't know I was on the back of that car," she said. "That's why he carried on when I came off the car."
It wasn't until he was stopped by police at the South Waikato town of Putaruru that Waiti was told he had dragged Eriepa for kilometres and her life now hung in the balance.
Waiti is to be sentenced on August 23.
After an emergency dash by the Westpac helicopter to Waikato Hospital, doctors called family to identify Eriepa as she lay critically injured in the intensive care unit. "They didn't think I would make it," she said.
But to everyone's amazement, less than 24 hours later, she was awake and responsive.
Unfortunately, doctors could not save her mangled left foot and amputated it above the ankle. Then followed a series of grafts to restore sections of her skin and muscle shredded from across her body as she bounced over nearly 2km of road between Tokoroa and Putaruru.
Her badly dislocated thumb needed screws inserted and parts of her ripped scalp were stitched together.
Eriepa said she was still in a lot of pain but improving every day. A prosthetic foot would be fitted next month. "It was all painful," she said, "but I'm doing all right. It's mainly phantom pains in the leg. They're not very nice."
Meanwhile, she is adjusting to her new life after spending more than six weeks in hospital.
She said the youngest of her eight children - Dreyden, 14, Tiara, 12, Kauri, 11, and Kahikatea, 9 - were helping with chores and taking care of the mother they nearly lost.
Daughter Tiara was busy in the kitchen when the Herald on Sunday visited, keeping it clean and cooking for the family while her brothers helped to vacuum and tidy rooms.
Other family members rallied during the first week Eriepa was reunited with her children in the Clinkard Ave home after a separation of nearly two months.
But she was preparing to shift to Hamilton in coming weeks to live closer to extended family.
Eriepa said she wanted to thank the many motorists and Lichfield locals who came to her rescue on May 25 and had special praise for tractor driver Bernie Trumper. "He helped save my life."
She was looking forward to personally thanking him soon.
She said that while recovering in hospital, she had been touched by the cards and gifts from strangers.
As for the car now parked in the driveway, Eriepa nonchalantly revealed she was back behind the wheel. "It's not an issue to me. I've been in the car since."