Stephanie is a senior reporter for the Rotorua Daily Post.

Coroner works to prevent more deaths

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Coroner Wallace Bain. Photograph by Stephen Parker
Coroner Wallace Bain. Photograph by Stephen Parker

Rotorua-based regional coroner Dr Wallace Bain - who is deeply committed to his job but still finds time to do regular community work - is the Rotorua Daily Post Person of the Year.

Dr Bain, coroner for the Bay of Plenty, has been at the centre of multiple legislation changes during his 23 years as a coroner.

He carried out a number of high-profile inquests in 2015, including into the death of Sam Kershaw who was killed in December 2012 after the top-dressing plane he was flying crashed at Waikite Valley.

Concerns were raised at the inquest about the quality of training given to the instructor overseeing Mr Kershaw. As a result, the Civil Aviation Authority has revamped its E Category instructor rating, ensuring adequate training will now be in place for pilots where it wasn't at the time of the accident.

The paper received nominations for Person of the Year from members of the public. People who featured as Our People of the Month throughout the year were automatically nominated.

Dr Bain stood out as a contender for the accolade after launching an investigation into the hunting deaths of Carlos Ngamoki, 27, killed at Te Kaha, and 11-year-old Connor Phillips, who was shot in the Kaingaroa Forest in October.

He previously told the Rotorua Daily Post the pair's deaths brought "sharply into focus" the first three basic rules of the Arms Code. He acknowledged the public concern about hunting deaths and said after the inquiry he would look to make recommendations.

Dr Bain said being named Person of the Year blew him away.

"After I had received the news, I rang Judge Chris McGuire, who is a very dear friend of mine, and we were saying it is probably the first time a presiding judge of a court has been recognised for their community work so I was truly humbled and blown away.

"Rotorua is a lovely area and I love the role I am in because you can actually make a difference. I said to myself, if I had to write a book, what would I put in it - there have been countless things. Take bullying, Hayley-Ann Fenton - that was text bullying. It was shocking, but as a result of that inquest the anti-bullying legislation came."

Hayley-Ann, 15, committed suicide in 2009 after her 27-year-old married boyfriend broke up with her and she received a string of threatening text messages from his wife.

"Everything I said was adopted by the Law Commission. We've got the Digital Harm Act now and that is a direct result of my recommendations, so you do make a difference in this job."

Dr Bain said it was often emotionally difficult presiding over inquest hearings but the rewarding nature of his work made it worthwhile.

"I must say I am more emotional now than I was but it is an area where you can make a difference and that is very rewarding."

But it is not just influential work he does as a coroner that makes him the paper's Person of the Year. In his own time, Dr Bain gives talks at local high schools, with Key to Life Charitable Trust Ambassador and comedian Mike King to educate people about youth suicide.

Their sessions, 'A Coroner and a King', have been well received and Dr Bain believes their message has largely contributed to the 50 per cent drop in youth suicide in Rotorua.

"It's all about educating people. In my line of work I come across so many preventable deaths so when I see a way to change something, I will. It does get tiring but in the end if you're saving lives, it's all worth the effort."

- Rotorua Daily Post

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