Sandra is a senior crimes and justice reporter for the Bay of Plenty Times.

Emotions raw as crash victims remembered

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Five coolstore workers killed in a horror crash between a car and truck on SH2 have been warmly remembered by their grief-stricken friends and co-workers. Photo/John Borren
Five coolstore workers killed in a horror crash between a car and truck on SH2 have been warmly remembered by their grief-stricken friends and co-workers. Photo/John Borren

A memorial service was today held at the workplace of the five men killed in last night's horror crash near Katikati.

The victims have been named as Halani Fine, Koli Vaipulu, Sitiveni Vaipulu, Sione Teulaka, and Samuela Taukatelata. They died when their car collided with a truck on State Highway 2.

It's like losing a brother. He was an outgoing person, and so full of life and enjoyment. Koli always had smile on his face.

All five worked at Aongatete Coolstores and had just finished their shift when the car they were in pulled out of a side road.

Coolstore managing director Allan Dawson said the service was held inside the packhouse and attended by current and former staff, friends, and their families, members of the Tongan community. Victim Support and counselling had been offered to them.

"Apart from key staff needed to run the coolstore, we are choosing not to operate the packhouse today, as our key focus is to support the staff, their friends and family members coming in, and to ensure we are there for them," he said.

Emergency services attend the scene of a fatal crash near Katikati on Dawson Rd off State Highway 2. Photo / George Novak
Emergency services attend the scene of a fatal crash near Katikati on Dawson Rd off State Highway 2. Photo / George Novak

Mr Dawson said the loss of the five men, particularly at the same time, had a devastating impact on huge number of people.

"With five people killed and so many families, and their friends effected, it has had a huge ripple effect right through our whole organisation," he said.

Read more: Five 'fine young men' killed in horror crash near Tauranga named

"Steven [Sitiveni] has been coming to us for eight years, and was working in a supervisor's role. The other workers had worked for us for different periods of time.

''They were such lovely people, just so willing and helpful and actually quite skilled as well. We will be stuffed without them ... You couldn't ask for better people to work for you. We are a family-run business and think of all of our staff as one big family, and we are all very close."

Mr Dawson said the rest of staff were still reeling from the crash.

The five workers killed near Katikati: top left: Samuel Taukatelata aka Samuela Taukatelata;
bottom left: Sione Teulaka; middle: Koli Vaipulu;
bottom right: Steven Vaipulu aka Sitiveni Vaipulu; top right: Halani Fine. Photo / via Facebook
The five workers killed near Katikati: top left: Samuel Taukatelata aka Samuela Taukatelata; bottom left: Sione Teulaka; middle: Koli Vaipulu; bottom right: Steven Vaipulu aka Sitiveni Vaipulu; top right: Halani Fine. Photo / via Facebook

Mr Dawson said the main focus for him, his wife Nell, who is operations manager at the plant, and other senior staff was to support all the staff, and the deceased friends and families.

We are like one big family. It's likely that a huge number of people will need lots of support for some time.
Allan Dawson

"It's a very emotional time for everyone," he said.

Mr Dawson said the company had been flooded with offers of support, not just for the families of the five people killed but staff and other members of the Tongan community, which included offers from other local packhouse businesses.

"We are definitely going to need lots of support going forward ...''

Mr Dawson said about 20 per cent of the staff would travel to Tonga for the funerals.

"Lots of people know each other in this industry. We are like one big family. It's likely that a huge number of people will need lots of support for some time."

Mr Dawson said he had talked to roading authorities about the need for a right-hand turning lane out of Dawson Rd.

"I also think we need to get a street light erected on this intersection similar to the one down at Lockington Rd and Wright Rd intersections... But I don't think anything would have helped in this case unfortunately, as it appears the driver pulled out in front of the truck."

A devastated colleague and friend of Koli Vaipulu, who did not wish to be named, told the Bay of Plenty Times that he still could not believe what had happened.

"Koli used to work right alongside me. It's like losing a brother. He was an outgoing person, and so full of life and enjoyment. Koli always had smile on his face."

Another man who attended the memorial service yesterday, said: "Steven was a very quiet, good natured person. He was always very humble and respectful, and such a caring person. He was well-respected by all the staff. It's tragic," he said.

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