A woman at the scene of a fatal crash in Huntly that claimed the lives of a man and two boys has described how she found a young girl distraught in the back seat of a mangled car.
The witness was in the Essex Arms pub which is just metres away from State Highway One, when a silver sedan crossed the centre line and collided with a Mark Grey Carriers truck just after 2.30pm.
The road reopened just before 9pm. Police are still working to confirm the identities of the deceased and inform next of kin.
The witness ran to the scene and said the truck driver, who was uninjured, got out of his truck and was immediately on the phone to emergency services.
She and other witnesses prised open the front passenger door of the car where a badly injured woman in her late 20s was sitting. A girl, aged 9, was sitting behind her.
"[The little girl] was quite upset. She was in the back and she was worried her mum was going to die. Her brother - well I presume it was her brother - was half lying on her."
There was another boy next to him and she thought they looked about 11 and 13 years old.
She and a motorist who had been travelling directly behind the car helped unlock the girl's door. A Huntly doctor and her assistant helped the girl to their car and tried to calm her down.
The pub customer said the mother suffered severe facial wounds. She was in severe shock.
Her airbag had opened, which the witness thought may have minimised the damage.
The woman and girl were airlifted to Waikato Hospital. As of 7pm, the woman was in critical condition in the Intensive Care Unit, while the girl was stable in a ward.
"[The girl's] lost her family," the witness said. "I assume her mother will be all right but you never know with head wounds."
Other nearby workers said they did not hear the crash despite their shops backing onto where it was on SH1 in Huntly.
Charlie Habershon was working at the takeaway shop and ran out the back door to see what had happened when her sister heard sirens.
Habershon saw the woman being cut from the vehicle about five minutes later.
The takeaway staff heard an ambulance driver say to the girl, "It's OK you can hold mummy's hand in a little while".
The bodies of those who died in the crash were removed around 8pm, said Huntly volunteer fire brigade chief Craig Bush.
The scene had been cleared and SH1 was open again.
Mark Grey, of Mark Grey Carriers, said he was at the police station with the driver this afternoon.
"We're not doing too well. I'm supporting the driver and we're giving the police as much information as we can."
Huntly Volunteer Fire Brigade chief fire officer Craig Bush said it had been a "pretty rough day".
"We were also called to assist ambulance at a cardiac arrest and the person died so that was four people dead in our little town in an hour and a half."
Counselling would be offered to any firefighters who needed it.
"We're able to offer all the support in the world for anyone who needs it."
Waikato road policing senior sergeant Andy Bubear urged people to drive to the conditions.
"If you are tired or fatigued stop."
Some residents did not want to speak about the crash out of respect for the people involved.
A local shop worker, who asked not to be named, said customers had been coming through talking about the crash and supporting each other.
"There was a whole commotion at the time and there were helicopters up.
"It's a triple fatality, so we're expecting emergency crews to be around for a while. We don't know if [the victims] are locals or not, but it's a sad thing for the community.''
Waikato District mayor Allan Sanson said the community would be rallying to support one another.
"Our thoughts and hearts are with the family, obviously. I understand there is three departed and two in critical care. I don't know if they're a family or connected in anyway, but I'm assuming there is a family in there,'' he said.
"Unfortunately we live in a part of New Zealand which has huge traffic numbers and occasionally we have these types of things happen for whatever reason.
"Every time there's a truck and car involved, usually the occupants in the car come off second best."
It was not yet known whether those involved were a local family, he said.
"But if they are local people, it will impact even more in the community. It is a hard one. My heart goes out to the family - it really, really does.
"It happens and people don't get to have their goodbyes - they don't get to have that last cuddle, they don't get to have that last kiss. It's just that sudden gone - like somebody turning a light switch off."
The three deaths would take this year's official road toll from 229, where it stood today, to 232.
The toll for the same period last year was 10 fewer.