Natalie Akoorie is a reporter at the NZ Herald based in Hamilton.

Strange behaviour by Jeep linked to murder

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George Taiaroa was shot while he operated a stop-go at roadworks. Photo / Supplied
George Taiaroa was shot while he operated a stop-go at roadworks. Photo / Supplied

Two motorists have told the High Court at Rotorua today of the "strange behaviour" of a Jeep on the afternoon stop-go worker George Taiaroa was shot.

Farmer Andrew Parker and Rotorua lecturer Karen Illston noticed a Jeep Cherokee following them as they drove separately to the Tram Rd bridge where Taiaroa died on the afternoon of March 19, 2013.

Quinton Winders has pleaded not guilty to the murder.

Parker said the early-90s Jeep, which he described as forest green, caught his attention because it was parked half on the road, although there was enough room for it to be completely off the road.

Later, Parker saw the Jeep was directly behind him and slowed down in his tractor to let it pass.

"[But] the Jeep hung back so I thought 'stuff this' and planted my foot.

"I watched in my mirror because I thought it acted strangely by not passing."

Parker, who drove the route between his farms at Atiamuri and Whakamaru every day, then turned on to Tram Rd, where Taiaroa operated the stop-go sign at a roadworks.

Moments later, and after Parker had crossed the bridge, Taiaroa was shot in the head.

Rotorua lecturer Karen Illston also recalled an older-style navy-blue jeep that came speeding up behind her as she left Taumarunui at about 1.30pm.

"I actually thought it was going to run into the back of me at times," Illston said.

She told the court she assumed the driver, the only person in the vehicle she called a "blue truck", must have been in a hurry.

In her side-mirror she noticed the driver was resting his "dark-toned" arm on the open window.

She said the driver had black hair and assumed he was a large-built Maori because of the colour of his skin. She did not see his face.

It wasn't until the pair turned off to Tokoroa that the Jeep passed Illston.

When Illston arrived at the Tram Rd bridge at about 3.20pm, traffic was backed up and a Rotorua Forest Haulage truck was stopped on the single-lane bridge.

She said the truck driver was walking across the bridge towards her, a Jucy rental car and a tradesman's van.

She got out of her car and asked the truckie what was wrong and was told a man had been shot.

She and the other waiting traffic were told to leave, which she did.

Winders' lawyer Jonathan Temm compared photos of the blue Jeep Cherokee in question with Illston's description of the Jeep behind her, which she described as having mag wheels with "spokes".

Temm pointed out that once the Jeep passed her, Illston never saw it again, meaning it could have taken any number of access roads before she reached the Tram Rd bridge.

Temm also questioned Parker on his description of the Jeep as "dark forest green".

"It remains your position today?" Temm asked. "Yes," Parker answered.

He immediately rang the police that night and said he had seen a strange vehicle, "doing funny things", near the bridge.

Parker said he was "on a mission to get home", had the stereo blasting and didn't know if the Jeep followed him across the bridge.

He never heard a gunshot or any other noise from outside because of the noise of the tractor, stereo and air-conditioning.

The trial continues before Justice Kit Toogood.

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