More than 300 people have died on our roads this year. Lovey Taimani was the first. As thousands of New Zealanders hit the roads for their holidays and police plead for people to stay safe, Cherie Howie traces the profound impact Lovey's life and death had on six people forever linked by a young woman's death. Watch and read their stories below.

S

ix people.

A police officer, a student. A firefighter and a new grandmother. A proud Otara mum. A paramedic.

Apart from two, they don't know each other. They shouldn't share anything more than an appreciation of an All Blacks triumph or a sunny Saturday.

They share something much worse - the pain of the loss of Lovey Taimani.

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The 22-year-old Onehunga student was the first of 307 people to die on our roads this year.

Almost a full turn of the calendar has passed since her young life ended on the unforgiving bitumen of the Southern Motorway. Three-hundred-and-sixty days where loss is measured not only in the absence of a vibrant young woman, but in the memories that linger long after she is gone.

New Year's Day is meant to be a day of fresh starts, or at least the promise of a fresh start. There was no fresh start for Lovey. January 1, 2015, was the end.

The sun was just up when she was propelled from the seven-seat people mover she was a passenger in, her seatbelt of no use when the force of the impact sent her flying through the back window. Boyfriend Tu'atalatau Kaivelata, at her side in the back seat, had been tossed from the out-of-control vehicle moments before.

Four of the seven friends in the car, including Kaivelata, received minor injuries in the crash near the East Tamaki offramp. Taimani died in an ambulance at the scene.

Haunted by tragedy

W

hen Tira Tupou hangs out her washing, she thinks of Lovey. When she mows her lawns, the buzz of the four-stroke engine drowns out the hum of suburbia. It can do nothing to mask the memories of the New Year's Day morning the short life of a stranger ended a few feet away.

"I think it could have been my own child, my own niece or daughter," says Tupou, who called 111 after the crash.

"The pain of losing a loved one, even though I didn't know her, it was like she was one of my own. She was studying, she was beautiful and she was so full of life, from what I read of her. When I go out there, I think about her. I feel like her guardian."

Sergeant Karen Penney was one of the first police officers to reach the scene. She's seen her share of death, but some have found a special place in her heart and never left. Lovey is one.
"I often think of her, in particular, because it seemed so unfair. She had so much ahead of her. From what I can gather, she had a really good attitude. She would have been a very productive member of our community. It would have been a good life."

Otahuhu Fire Station station officer Chris Lane led the first truck to reach the scene. A 15-year veteran, he has also seen it all.

This crash was no different from many - a field of debris, stunned bystanders, the screams of the injured. He tries not to dwell on the horror, but it's always there. Lovey is there.

"I generally don't take anything home but I know exactly the accident you're talking about and I can see the scene exactly as it was when we got there. I remember everything about it."

Fatal Crashes

2013 - 300

2014 - 340

2015 - 317

St John Ambulance intensive care paramedic Kateshe Clark remembers Lovey when she passes the crash site.

"You see the flowers on the side of the road. There's always that constant reminder you've attended a job where there's been a loss of life. We attend these incidents not knowing anything about the people involved. After, you've got time to stop and think about the impact, not only the patient, but the family. You realise the devastation of the loss when you read the tributes."

For Kaivelata, that devastation remains raw. Two family events are the only times he has been happy this year, the 23-year-old says.

"But after the joy of the events has calmed down, Lovey is back in my mind all the time."

A beautiful baby

L

ovey Taimani came into the world late and left early but her enthusiasm for life was clear from her first breath, her mother Siosiana Havea Taimani says.

"When she came out she had her eyes open and she looked beautiful."

A photo of a two-day-old Lovey, enclosed in a treasured booklet alongside her vital statistics - she arrived two weeks late at 10.30pm on August 2 1992 at National Women's Hospital, was 55cm long and weighed a bonny 4.1kg - shows two inquisitive eyes staring back at the camera.

Taimani and her husband, Siaosi, chose the name Raveuatutaua for their second daughter. But the nickname Lovey stuck.

It was well chosen - her daughter's greatest quality was her capacity for love, Taimani says.

"The last entry in her journal, she wrote that she's going to put in $100 every week for five years towards helping mum and dad to buy a home."

Lovey's former Otago University classmates sent a homemade book of photos and tributes, sharing memories of a person who gave friendship to anyone who needed it.

"One said he was sitting there like he was left out because he doesn't have a friend, but when Lovey came in, she just introduced herself and it looked like they've been friends for a long time."

Taimani didn't want her daughter to move south, but there was comfort in the life well-lived. Lovey had returned home to continue her Bachelor of Arts studies at the University of Auckland.

"When I look at [the book], I think Lovey, even though she's gone, had done a lot. I was sad because I wanted to have her here, but I'm glad that she enjoyed the life."

Lovey also organised her sister's baby shower, making the bumble-bee themed invitations herself. Little Otolose Scarlett was born 17 days after the crash that claimed her aunt's life.

'I'm in love with you'

T

aimani was distracted the night her daughter went out for the last time. A new iPad and her first Facebook page had captured her attention.

"If I only knew that she'd go out that night and never come back, I would get up and hug her. But I didn't because I was so busy with my iPad."

Across the inlet in Mangere, Kaivelata did not expect to see his girlfriend of eight months. But she texted to ask if he would join her and other friends on "a ride".

He would. Any time spent with Lovey made him happy, he says.

"She said 'I love you'. I said, 'jeez, you're drunk' and she said 'no, listen, look at me - I'm really in love with you"

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They had known each other since the age of 11 and, even though they didn't begin their relationship for another 11 years, Kaivelata was impressed with her confidence.

"I wished I was like that. And she was pretty. Heaps of girls are pretty but not heaps of them can back it up with a mean personality."

The couple hadn't talked marriage but Kaivelata, won over by his sweetheart's loyalty to her family, had thought about it. "But I never told anybody."

Lovey shared her feelings during their final "ride".

"She said 'I love you'. I said, 'jeez, you're drunk' and she said 'no, listen, look at me - I'm really in love with you'. I don't expect anybody to understand how I'm feeling. People be like 'oh, it's just a girlfriend, you've only been with her for eight months'.

"For me, I was thinking about a future. Our memories, that's cool, but the things I think about when I'm by myself, when I cry to myself, those are the things I grieve over, the future that we could have had."

An almighty boom

T

he crash that ended Lovey's life arrived with an almighty boom. The impact shook Tupou awake and off the couch.

"The sound of it was like an earthquake. There was a guy screaming his head off and I was so scared."

Looking over the fence that separates her Harwood Cres home from the Southern Motorway, she saw Lovey's motionless body. A woman was screaming "she's dead, she's dead".
Her neighbours helped the injured and she called 111. They would later comfort each other as the impact of what happened sunk in, says Tupou, who left her home for a week after the crash.

"We were crying and praying. Why did this have to happen?"

Kaivelata was among those scattered around the crash scene. "I was in the car, in the air and on the grass. I remember thinking 'did I just get into a car crash? Am I outside the car?'", he says.

It was 6.15am.

Karen Penney had just started her shift - the morning line up hadn't finished when the call came in. Within minutes, she was at the scene.

Amazingly, they were beaten by an ambulance officer who discovered the crash while driving to another job.

That gave everyone comfort, Penney says.

"It was great to be able to reassure her mum [the next day] that Lovey got the best help ... I could also tell her that kind people stopped, while she was being treated on the ground someone put a jacket over her, someone put a blanket over her to keep her warm.

"It was very important for them to know she wasn't just a statistic. People were helping, they cared, she wasn't alone."

At Otahuhu Fire Station, Chris Lane was 45 minutes from the end of his shift when the call came.

"She's never out of my mind. Sometimes it's funny, sometimes it's sad. Sometimes I cry, sometimes I laugh."

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The first job was to protect the scene. He placed his truck between the crash site and traffic.

"After things have settled down, you analyse things ... I thought 'what a waste'. They'd obviously been out for a good night and it was just a senseless loss. There was no need."

By the time Kaivelata saw the woman who had minutes earlier said she loved him, ambulance staff were working on her. He turned away.

"I saw her shirt was open, but throughout the time I'd been with her, I'd never seen her body. Everyone's asking 'why didn't you go to her?' But, in my head I was thinking 'I'm going to see you tomorrow and you're going to be proud that I didn't look at your body.

"I didn't want my first time to see her body to be in a situation like this. I was proud of myself."

In hospital, his thoughts turned to moving their beds next to each other. Instead a policeman told him Lovey was dead.

"My body just went numb. Before the policeman came, I heard someone wailing and I was like 'that's not Lovey, someone else must've passed away'. I think my mind was too innocent and death wasn't even a thing. I kept thinking 'I was just with you, I was just with you'."

Kateshe Clark was with Lovey when she died five minutes after being put in an ambulance.

"When she flatlined, there is that sense of sadness that goes with that. You start to realise, this is really going to be hard for the family and at least we've been there for her in those last moments doing everything that we can."

Lovey's mother is comforted by her Mormon faith. She believes she will see her daughter again. For others, Lovey might come and go. For Taimani she is always there.

"She's never out of my mind. Sometimes it's funny, sometimes it's sad. Sometimes I cry, sometimes I laugh."

The anniversary of her death might be time to say goodbye, for now, Taimani says.

"It's almost a year, but I think to myself that maybe, the new year, I let go of Lovey. She is always in my heart, but I'll just say 'fly Lovey'."

Papatoetoe man Hingano Anamanu Kala'uta has been charged with manslaughter and four counts of drink driving causing injury. The 23-year-old, who was alleged by police to have a blood alcohol level of 85 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood and to have reached speeds of up to 160km/h, will defend the charges at a trial next year.