Youth's life shattered in a second

By SHIRLEY WHITWELL in Whakatane
Tamati Paul shuffled on to the stage, his partial paralysis obvious to the staunch and usually exuberant teenagers waiting to hear his words.

The words were slow and laboured. Occasionally a stammer or a stutter. Often the young man would forget his words mid-sentence.

Five years ago Tamati was a dynamic young man, living in Gisborne, a former surf lifesaving and outrigger canoe champion representing his country in waka ama - his life ahead of him.

His life was shattered in seconds when he was seriously injured in a crash with a repeat drunk driver near Tologa Bay in 1998.

The drunk driver, Chris Waru, died at the scene. He had 15 previous driving convictions and was a disqualified driver at the time of the crash.

Tamati spent months in a coma. Nearly every bone in his body was broken, his skull smashed. He was not expected to survive. That diagnosis became "he will never walk again" and the past few years have been spent learning how to walk and talk again.

Tamati features in Shattered Dreams, a film that tells how he sustained and then recovered from the severe multiple injuries. He shares his story about how he and his family's lives were changed forever by a drunk driver.

The Accident Compensation Commission funded the video which is being shown to youth in a bid to curb high male Maori drink driving statistics.

Tamati added to the impact of his video with a visit to Whakatane's Cyber Cafe as part of National Youth Week.

"This is my story," he told the young people present. "There are no scripts. I performed and competed in my dream sports.

I had these dreams shattered in that crash.

"I use the word crash deliberately rather than the commonly used "accident". My crash was no accident - it was the result of drink driving."

Tamati has lost the vision in one eye, still has only partial use of one arm and leg and suffers short-term memory loss. He will never play sport or work again but the bitterness has passed, with love.

"I have the love of my whanau. My wife and child, my mother. I will move on and get better."

He urged his quiet audience to make the right choice - "don't drink and drive a vehicle. It affects other people's lives - look at me".

As his speech ended, a man in the audience stepped on to the stage to hug him before introducing himself.

"My name is Red Edwards. My first cousin is Chris Waru.

"My cousin made the choice he did to drink and drive. He had done it before. This time he had been drinking all day. He lost his life - and took others with him," he said.

"Our family has had to live with the crash on our conscience for seven years. The drink driver has no conscience."

The aftermath of the reunion between the family of the drunk driver and the victim left the usually "tough as" young Whakatane crowd with tears in their eyes.

When the Daily Post spoke to them about the impact the episode had had on them, their responses ranged from "sad" to "touching".

One said he found it hard to comprehend the enormity of the impact on people's lives. And the verdict on Tamati Paul? "He's a warrior, an inspiration."

- Rotorua Daily Post

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