Witnesses to the crash that killed three members of the Exclusive Brethren church told police a "clean-up crew" of secretive church members tried to take control of the crash site, according to newly released police documents.

Church member Russell Stewart pled guilty in January to causing the deaths of his 48-year-old wife Susanna, their 16-year-old daughter Sadie, and family friend James Wearmouth, 18, in the crash on June 6, 2016.

The first witness at the crash claimed Stewart walked away from the scene, where his wife and Wearmouth lay dead in the car and his daughter dying in the back seat.

L to R: Sadie Stewart, Jamie Wearmouth and Susanna Stewart died in a car crash. Photo / Supplied
L to R: Sadie Stewart, Jamie Wearmouth and Susanna Stewart died in a car crash. Photo / Supplied

More than 20 members of the church group then swarmed the site. A witness said they appeared to be trying to keep the events a secret.

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The information has come to light through police logs, witness statements and photos from the night, released under the Official Information Act to the Herald.

Stewart was found nearly two hours after the crash, and a breath test recorded 298 micrograms of alcohol. The legal limit is 250mcg.

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Stewart was driving east along Baylys Coast Rd when he missed a moderate right-hand corner. His overloaded ute crashed into a tree about 6.40pm, according to the traffic report.

He had been drinking, and had ignored the 65km/h advisory speed sign, the report said. The ute had no mechanical faults but its tyres were deflated to 16psi.

After the crash, Stewart "decamped from the scene of the crash almost immediately", according to the report.

He told police: "I think that I blacked out. That's the thing. I just don't remember. One thing I was going along fine, the next thing there was a shower of stones. That's it."

Russell Stewart, left, photographed by police after leaving the scene of a crash, right, where three members of the Exclusive Brethren church died. Photos / via Police
Russell Stewart, left, photographed by police after leaving the scene of a crash, right, where three members of the Exclusive Brethren church died. Photos / via Police

Local man Stephen Frood heard the crash from his house and was first to the scene. When he arrived, he told police, two people were clearly dead and injured people were strewn across the road. A community member - a man in a black puffer jacket - was on the phone to family members, instead of calling police.

The church disputed this today, reportedly saying the man in the puffer jacket had called police first. A spokesman for the church, Doug Watt, is reported as saying the statements were "either completely untrue or misleading".

Watt later emailed the Herald.

"We wish to remind you that this is a very private painful tragedy that has left all relatives and those closely concerned, deeply upset and we do not feel it is our business to make further comment," he said.

"The court has made their decision."

Frood said he ran to the ute and looked inside to find a woman slumped forward in her seat, not moving. A man next to her was also unresponsive. He knew "immediately" both were dead, Frood said.

A teenager was lying out of the right rear passenger door, his feet inside the vehicle. He grunted and was conscious. A girl was lying face down on the road and a teenage boy was lying on her. Both were conscious. Another teen was walking around with blood on his face.

Fearing that those in the road could be run over, Frood ran around the corner to stop traffic. There he saw the man in the puffer jacket talking on his phone.

He assumed the man was calling 111.

But when they spoke, Frood said the man told him he had called family members. Frood said he had to call 111 himself.

A police source has told the Herald no phone calls were made to emergency services by any members of the Exclusive Brethren community after the crash.

A few minutes later, Frood said he heard a woman having a "forceful discussion" with the man.

"She told him, 'Tell the truth. Don't say something that hasn't happened!' I didn't know what they were talking about," Frood said.

Excerpts from an interview Russell Stewart gave to police a few hours after the fatal crash. Photos / via Police
Excerpts from an interview Russell Stewart gave to police a few hours after the fatal crash. Photos / via Police

Frood got back to the ute, but its driver, who had been wearing a bright striped shirt, had disappeared.

Other people started arriving at the scene - all appeared to be family members or Exclusive Brethren. Another witness said at least 20 church members were at the scene when police arrived.

One of them was an older man who said he was looking for his son. The man in the puffer jacket said the man's son had gone in another vehicle, gesturing back toward the beach.

Frood had not seen another vehicle leave the crash and was unsure who they were talking about. "It appeared that the older gentleman was searching for someone that should have, or was meant to have been in the car," Frood told police.

"He seemed perplexed ... I thought that this was strange and I began to feel that something wasn't right.

"All of a sudden the scene was crowded with people, people from the Brethren community. They began moving the injured passengers and speaking with them secretly."

It appeared a "clean-up crew" had arrived to control the scene and keep it a secret, Frood said.

They wanted to remove the hurt people from the vehicle, Frood said; he told them not to.

"I had the uncanny feeling that they wanted to switch the driver. There were whispers and discussions happening amongst several groups, and I could tell that something was amiss."

Police arrived shortly after, and Frood told them the driver's name was Russell. "I felt compelled to tell the police because I was worried that there was going to be a switch or a cover-up."

The tree on Baylys Coast Rd after Russell Stewart crashed into it with his Mitsubishi ute, killing three people. Photo / Michael Cunningham
The tree on Baylys Coast Rd after Russell Stewart crashed into it with his Mitsubishi ute, killing three people. Photo / Michael Cunningham

While Frood was on the phone the car's horn alarm began sounding. Church members "swarmed" over the car, trying to remove the fuses to stop the alarm. "I thought this was a strange thing to worry about."

Another witness, Genea Evans, arrived at the scene around the same time as emergency services. The volunteer paramedic and a police officer found Stewart's daughter Sadie in the back seat of the car.

She was conscious but badly wounded. The Dargaville Fire Brigade arrived and prepared to cut the vehicle open to get her out.

But Evans and other ambulance staff quickly realised Sadie was not going to make it.

Sadie died soon after and was placed on a stretcher. Evans moved to put a sheet over the 16-year-old's body.

"Brethren women gathered around and approached me, they were watching," she said.
"They then questioned me. It was rude the way they approached me. They were forceful in their questioning and it was quite confronting.

"They said, 'She's alive, she was alive. She was breathing. What are you doing? She's not dead."

A farmer who lived nearby and spoke to the Herald said one worshipper had told him, "God has done this for a reason."

Earlier that day, the Exclusive Brethren had been seen at the beach at Pouto.

Joseph Ranginui, who was at the beach surfcasting, told police he saw a Ford Ranger and a dark blue Mitsubishi Triton ute driving dangerously.

The vehicles appeared to be racing at about 60km/h to 70km/h through the soft sand, close to the dunes, he said.

Both utes had passengers in their back tray - a teenage boy and two children aged about 10 in the Ford Ranger, and two slightly older in the Mitsubishi. All were standing, Ranginui said.

After driving up and down the sand dunes, they drove north toward Baylys Beach, leaving Pouto about 4.45pm.

The group of Exclusive Brethren were witnessed by a local fireman having a barbecue at Baylys Beach before the crash. File photo / NZHerald
The group of Exclusive Brethren were witnessed by a local fireman having a barbecue at Baylys Beach before the crash. File photo / NZHerald

Volunteer fireman Mark Schreurs saw a group of Brethren having a barbecue at Baylys Beach about 5pm.

They were gathered around a campfire and had a bivouac.

"It was the type of gathering that I would have liked to have been a part of. I wanted to invite ourselves but I knew it was inappropriate to ask."

The Exclusive Brethren are known for their secrecy. Church members are not allowed to eat or make friends with people outside the church.

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The group left before 6pm, without putting out the fire. Schreurs' brigade was called to the crash on Baylys Coast Rd not long after.

The barbecue on the back of the Mitsubishi's trailer was the same one he had seen at the beach earlier, Schreurs said.

Phillip Wearmouth was among the group of Brethren at the beach. He told police he followed the Mitsubishi and came across the crash 30 seconds after it happened.

Russell Stewart was driving but "ran off", he said.

After pleading guilty in court, Stewart was sentenced to four months' community detention and disqualified from driving for one year.