Catherine Gaffaney is a general reporter based in Auckland.

Rotorua teen Moana Matthews, killed after fleeing police, had big dreams

Rotorua teenager Moana Matthews killed in a crash following a police pursuit. Photo / Facebook
Rotorua teenager Moana Matthews killed in a crash following a police pursuit. Photo / Facebook

Moana Matthews, an "amazing" 17-year-old from Rotorua, dreamed of travelling the world.

Instead she was killed in a car crash, while fleeing police. The crash echoes the circumstances of three teens who died early this year.

Moana Matthews was seen driving erratically through an intersection and at high speed along Tarewa Rd in Rotorua early yesterday morning.

Police tried to stop the car, but Matthews continued for a kilometre before losing control and crashing over a stream bank and hitting a berm on the other side.

She was pronounced dead at the scene and three others received minor injuries.

Matthews' uncle, Sonny Matthews, said Moana was "the best niece in the world".

"I loved her like she was my own. She had the most beautiful personality to go with her beautiful pretty face and that's what made her just an absolutely beautiful person."

He said the pair always had a good laugh together and had many sayings and jokes which made their bond tighter.

"I will always treasure the memories we shared together, my niece, and I thank you for them. You will always live on with us in our hearts and in our thoughts."

Matthews' close friends, Horiana Rameka and Marina Holt-Kingi, said she was an amazing young girl.

"She was full of laughter and excitement, and such a genuine person.

"Moana was our party girl. She lit up everyone's face with the beautiful smile of hers.

"Her personality is what made her stand out. She was bubbly, outgoing and always happy."

The trio and Jessica Hodge, who was in the car with Matthews and is now in hospital, became close while studying tourism at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa in Rotorua last year.

"Words can't describe how miserable this is," Rameka and Holt-Kingi said in a written tribute to the Herald.

"So many hearts have been torn apart. Things won't be the same without you here."

Matthews continued to study tourism at the New Zealand School of Tourism in Rotorua this year.

Nikaya George-Aramkutu, who went to Sunset Primary School with Matthews, said she had hoped to "live her life and travel the world".

"She was a bubbly person; always happy. She had a lot of love for a lot of people.

"That girl had a heart of gold."

Matthews moved to west Australia with her family for a few years before returning to Rotorua. She also has family in Tauranga.

Police were involved in 3022 pursuits in the year to May 31. Five people - including at least three teenagers - died in crashes linked to a pursuit.

In late January, Featherston teens, Hoani Korewha, 15, and Pacer Willacy-Scott, 15, died after the car they were in fled from police.

Moana Matthews. Photo / Facebook
Moana Matthews. Photo / Facebook

Earlier in the month Eden Nathan, 16, died under similar circumstances.

A week ago Nathan's mother, Elizabeth Harrison, spoke to the Herald about the senseless loss of her daughter.

She warned other teens to learn from the nightmare that had become her reality.

"When you kids are out there doing the things you do, your families are at home wondering ... fearing for your lives. Your families love you. We will miss you if you continue to do things that harm you."

Rotorua police area commander Inspector Bruce Horne said yesterday's crash was a tragedy.

"This incident highlights the risk of driving at speed and the tragic consequences that can result when a driver refuses to stop and instead chooses to evade the police."

He said the matter had been referred to the Independent Police Conduct Authority.

The police watchdog reiterated calls to review police guidelines on pursuits at a parliamentary law and order committee in February - but its pleas failed to bring about change.

Police Association president Greg O'Connor said police across the world had tried to change policies around pursuits to no avail.

He said such chases were typically short-lived, giving little time to weigh up the options.

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