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A driver's cellphone use has been ruled out as the cause of a crash which claimed four young lives at Easter.
But the fact Sebastian Sigamoney was holding a cellphone and a cigarette when he failed to take a bend on State Highway 22, near Pukekohe, may have contributed to the tragedy, Coroner Sarn Herdson ruled yesterday.
Mr Sigamoney, Rodney Mountford, 25, Gordon Ngaia, 16, and Steven Upson, 16, died when the Honda Integra veered onto the wrong side of the road, became airborne, hit a tree and burst into flames.
The sole survivor of the crash, 16-year-old Shane Sheehan, said he saw Mr Sigamoney "definitely doing something" with his cellphone prior to the crash.
Mr Sheehan also recalled the speedometer in the car reaching 170km/h before the bend where the crash happened.
At inquests into the deaths yesterday, Ms Herdson said speed and the fact that Mr Sigamoney was holding the cellphone and cigarette were possible contributing factors.
"However, I am not prepared to make a finding based on the evidence that he was actively texting or using the text function in his cellphone at the time of the crash," Ms Herdson said. "In my view the evidence does not support that."
While Mr Sigamoney had been drinking alcohol, it was not a factor in the crash, she said.
The court heard that the group were driving back to Pukekohe after a night cruising in inner-city Auckland when Mr Sigamoney decided to race another car.
Mr Sheehan asked him to slow down, but Mr Sigamoney replied: "Nah, I want to win the race".
Mr Sheehan and Mr Ngaia were not wearing safety belts and were thrown from the car when it crashed. It was unclear if there were restraints in the car they could have used.
Mr Sheehan has undergone dozens of operations to treat injuries he suffered in the crash and still walks with a limp.
In a statement read to the court yesterday, Mr Sigamoney's family - immigrants from South Africa - described him as a "happy, gentle and caring person whose main aim in life was to make others happy, especially those less fortunate".
"Our thoughts and memories of Sebastian with friends in New Zealand across the colour line is second to none."
Outside the court, friend Anita Shepherd said Mr Sigamoney would always respect her wishes to slow down.
"Whenever I was in the car with Sebastian, if he would get a text on his phone he would give us the phone and say, 'You read it' or 'You text it'. I can't believe that he was texting."
Steven Upson was remembered yesterday as a car lover who spent every spare minute at the local racetrack.
He had recently taken up an apprenticeship and had been picked to represent Pukekohe at soccer at under-19 level.
A tearful Brian Upson, father of Steven, said all of the blame rested with Mr Sigamoney.
"It's not an accident driving at 170km/h and with people begging you to slow down. It's a pretty hard thing to forgive. Maybe in years to come you might, but not at the moment."
Carol Mountford said her son was a quiet, intelligent man who loved reading, computers and snowboarding, and did not know Mr Sigamoney or his reputation for speeding when he got in his car.
Gordon Ngaia was described by his family as kind-hearted and loving, a fine soccer player and a "PlayStation freak".
Ms Herdson's full findings will be released in a written decision.