Lawrence Gullery
FIVE white roses mark the site where five young lives were lost in a fatal car crash on Christmas Eve 15 years ago in Central Hawke's Bay.
The roses were laid next to five white crosses, clustered on a busy stretch of State Highway 2 between Waipukurau and Takapau, to launch a campaign aimed at removing repeat drunk and drugged drivers from our roads.
And like the families of the five students killed in 1992, Christmas is a difficult time for Megan McPherson as it will be her first festive season remembering a brother she'll never see again.
Ms McPherson lives in Dunedin now but was a student in Wellington when the five were killed on the Takapau Plains.
When her brother, Jonathan, was killed on a South Island road last year, memories of the Central Hawke's Bay crash returned immediately.
On Christmas Eve this year, Ms McPherson and her husband Andrew, who grew up in Hastings, travelled to the Takapau Plains site with Sensible Sentencing Trust national spokesman, Garth McVicar, to lay the roses.
Ms McPherson heads lobby group Cross Roads, which with the trust today launched the White Rose Day campaign asking people to wear a white rose to remember the lives of those killed by recidivist drunk and drugged drivers.
"I was in my 20s when this accident happened - I remember because it's a very similar situation to the one that killed my brother," Ms McPherson said, standing next to the white crosses on Monday.
New Zealand seemed to be "recycling drink drivers" and 15 years after the Central Hawke's Bay crash, similar incidents were still occurring.
"There are people driving in New Zealand that have 12 previous convictions and they should have been taken off the road," she said.
Ms McPherson said Cross Roads wanted to campaign for changes to the justice system as the status quo gave repeat offenders too many chances to get back behind the wheel.
"Sometimes we are accused of being the 'lock 'em up and throw the key away group' but if there is an alternative, then that will be fine. If people still have access to cars, that is not good enough," she said.
Ms McPherson said six families who had lost loved ones on the road had volunteered their stories for the Cross Roads website. More were interested but weren't yet ready to go public.
About 29,000 drunk drivers were prosecuted in 2006. One-third of drunk drivers caught were repeat offenders and more than 3000 had at least three drunk-driving convictions, she said. The road toll had increased this year, and stood at 404 - 27 more deaths than this time last year.