The man accused of murdering his partner in Kaitaia last Tuesday night has declared his intention to plead not guilty.
Forty-five-year-old Viliami One Fungavaka, described as a plasterer, handed himself in to the police in Whangarei on Wednesday, little more than 12 hours after he allegedly drove a vehicle over his 28-year-old partner, mother of two Georgina Manuel, in Pukepoto Road. Ms Manuel was flown to Whangarei Hospital, where she died early on Wednesday morning.
Fungavaka, who is believed to be from South Auckland, did not enter a plea or seek name suppression when he made a brief appearance before the District Court at Whangarei on Thursday, but his lawyer, Kahungunu Barron-Afeaki, indicated that he would deny the charge of murder. The accused was remanded in custody to appear before the High Court at Whangarei on September 12.
Meanwhile Ms Manuel's death prompted sadness and despair among those trying to combat family violence in the North.
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Among the reactions on social media was this from a Far North midwife: "I and my colleagues are just so tired of it, but we can talk at work until we are blue, it makes no difference and it won't either until the grandparents, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends of these guys finally stand up and tell them it's not OK. Just one person to stop turning a blind eye and letting them think 'It's all good.' Until that happens this will just keep coming."
Ms Manuel's death added to a list of fatal domestic violence incidents in Northland. Last month Whangarei man Philip Mahanga was sentenced to three years' jail for the manslaughter of his partner, Patricia McGrath; this month Jimmy Akuhata, also of Whangarei, had been due to go on trial for allegedly murdering his girlfriend, Ashlee Edwards.
Nor is it the first time a vehicle has allegedly been used in a family violence incident. In November 2010 a Matauri Bay man was arrested for allegedly running over his partner after an alcohol-fuelled argument. She suffered serious chest and abdominal injuries, and spent more than a month in hospital, police saying at the time that she would have died had she not received prompt medical attention.
Her partner was charged with injuring with intent to cause grievous bodily harm, drink driving and driving while disqualified.
Police are keen to speak with anyone who has any information regarding the events of Tuesday night, including anyone who picked up a hitch hiker between Kaitaia and Kerikeri between 6am and 12 noon on Wednesday. Information can be given to the police in Kaitaia, phone 408-6500, or to Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555-111.