A teenage girl who died in a tragic crash was on a "girls' day out" with four friends to get ready for the school ball.
"I got the call saying she had been in a crash and someone asked me how long it would take me to get there," said her mother Karen Gardiner from Rotorua yesterday. "That's when I knew it was more serious than a few broken bones.
"I knew she wasn't coming back to us. I feel like it should have been me instead of her. I feel empty... devastated."
Kristi-Rae Ruri-Gardiner, 18, prefect and sports star at Rotorua Girls' High School, died on Friday night after an accident the day before. She was travelling with four friends from Rotorua to Tauranga to get spray-tans for the school ball.
Those friends were still in hospital last night. Tui Martin, 19, was in a critical condition in Waikato Hospital; Tui's cousin Adrianne Martin-Ohlsen, Cheyenne Grace, and Bobby-Leigh Morrison, all 18, were in Rotorua Hospital with moderate injuries.
The ball was postponed after the crash, but Kristi was still dressed in her bright blue ball gown - in her coffin. Her funeral will be held on Tuesday.
The crash came five days after an accident in Rotorua last weekend in which 12 teenagers were injured.
Karen Gardiner said it was Kristi and Tui's idea to get spray tans and the other girls decided to go along for the ride.
She was not keen for her daughter to drive because of worsening weather conditions, but believed Kristi would be safe, as she had a full licence and had recently completed a defensive driving course.
"I told her to be careful but she is a good driver," said Karen. "They just wanted a girls' day out. She had the blue dress. It was a big girly thing to her. She was just so bubbly and friendly. We had so many of her friends come and see her at the hospital. I was blown away because I knew she was popular, but not that popular."
Karen said Kristi had planned to go to the ball with Aaron Gourlay, the driver of the crash the week before but had decided at the last minute to take another boy. Gourlay is still in Waikato Hospital in an induced coma.
"The kids coming to visit had to walk past him to come and see her," said Karen. "I don't know how they coped with it."
Karen said her daughter was involved in many sports, including basketball, badminton, squash, volleyball and swimming. She had competed nationally for water polo.
She had not decided what she wanted to do after school, but the animal lover was "seriously thinking" about joining the police as a dog handler.
"She was so active and always thinking and doing stuff. Always making things, doing sport, jumping on her skateboard and going to school," said Karen. "It doesn't even really feel like she's gone. I keep expecting her to come walking through the door."
Rotorua Girls' High School principal Annette Joyce said staff and students had gathered to discuss what had happened to the girls. They would speak again tomorrow about Kristi's death and get counselling help for pupils and staff.
"We are absolutely devastated. Kristi was so very special and had achieved so much. She had such a great following. For most of them this will be the biggest tragedy that has ever touched them," said Joyce.
She said the school offered driver education in Year 12 but it was not part of the national curriculum and the school had to carry the cost.
She said the way driver education was offered at schools needed to be reviewed.
"Accidents on the roads are always going to happen [but] if we want our girls to get to 18 or 19... you have to take into account life skills along with academic achievements."
Rotorua police Senior Sergeant Denton Grimes said the two crashes involving local teenagers in the last week emphasised the importance of safe driving. "Speed and failing to drive to the conditions are also a factor in this crash," he said.
"Although the speed limit might be 100km/h, when a big downpour happens, or icy roads, you should immediately drop your speed even further."
Kristi's body, which was transported from Waikato Hospital yesterday, will stay at her Rotorua home with family until her funeral on Tuesday.
The funeral is to be held at the Rotorua Arena at midday.