A man, known only to be in his 20s, has been charged with the murder of 35-year-old Lee Rata in Kaitaia. He appeared before the District Court at Whangarei on Tuesday, where he was granted interim name suppression and was remanded in custody to appear in the High Court at Whangarei on February 4.
Mr Rata was found badly injured in Bonnetts Road late on New Year's Eve. He was treated at the scene by St John then transported to Kaitaia Hospital and finally transferred to Whangarei Hospital's intensive care unit, where he died the following day. Police have said a post mortem examination had established he died of blunt force trauma to the head.
Police said yesterday that members and associates of the Mongrel Mob were believed to have been involved in the killing. A number of search warrants were executed in Moerewa yesterday as the investigation continued, and a number of arrests were made on unrelated matters, including drug dealing, assault and dishonesty offending.
Mr Rata had attended a wedding on New Year's Eve, and had been at the reception at an address in Bonnetts Road. A member of the public flagged down a passing police patrol at about 11pm, after he was found, critically injured, on the side of the road.
Detective Inspector Kevin Burke, who described the assault on Mr Rata as an unprovoked attack, is leading the investigation team that earlier this week was boosted to more than 20, including officers from the Waikato, Counties Manukau, Auckland and Waitemata districts. He said on Tuesday that a large number of witnesses had yet to be located and spoken to.
"We have received good assistance from the public, which has helped us in establishing who was present at the function in Bonnetts Road near where the assault occurred," he said.
"This includes numerous images of people who were at the function. We are continuing to identify and speak with function guests and those who were nearby. A number of the guests have returned to their homes outside Northland, and we would like these people to contact us."
Police (phone (09) 408-6500) would also like to hear from anyone who may have seen the victim earlier in the evening, and/or were in the Bonnetts Road area.
Meanwhile a Givealittle page (www.givealittle.co.nz/cause/help4lee), set up to help the family, had raised $2550 as of yesterday. The page describes Mr Rata as a beloved son, brother, father, uncle and partner, who had been "taken from us in the most brutal way imaginable."
Liz Waipouri said from Australia that her brother, father of a 6-year-old son and a 5-month-old daughter, loved his family and would do anything for them.
"He has a massive circle of friends because you couldn't help but be drawn in, he's such a loveable guy," she said, adding that she spoke of him in the present tense because "he's still with us, watching, guiding and protecting. Doing what he does best."
Julia Tua, who opened the givealittle page, said Mr Rata's family were "absolutely devastated."
Because it was the holiday season finances were very limited, and the family were asking for help in meeting the costs of gas, food, flights for immediate family "and general costs that go with these terrible circumstances".
"If you could find it in your heart to assist Lee's whanau it would be greatly appreciated."