A little girl was fighting for her life in the Starship last night as police investigated whether four adults riding with her on a quad bike that crashed should be charged.
Six-year-old Ashlee Petrowski was flown in a critical condition to the Auckland children's hospital yesterday afternoon.
Her 28-year-old father, Daniel Petrowski, 22-year-old stepmother, Stephanie Lucas, and two other adults aged in their 20s were believed to have been drinking on Waimarama Beach in Hawkes Bay before driving the quad bike home shortly before midnight on Wednesday.
Investigating officers are still trying to establish who was driving the bike when it crashed down a ditch and into the fence of a tennis court on Okaihau Rd.
Screams and hysterical cries for help led Richard Gaddum to a "scene of carnage" outside his home.
"It was blowing really hard outside and I thought it must be my neighbour up the road. I thought he might have been trapped under his bike.
"I went to take a look, but couldn't see anything. As I came back, a man came out of the trees and flagged me down, then of course I was confronted by this scene of carnage - four adults and a screaming child. They were just spewed out there next to the tennis court.
"There were five of them on the bike, it's unbelievable, really," Mr Gaddum said.
As an experienced member of the Waimarama rural fire force, Mr Gaddum was quick to assess the situation and call for help.
At the scene yesterday morning, cans of pre-mix cola and bourbon and a pair of sunglasses lay strewn in the grass, while the quad bike sat at the bottom of a bank, butted up against a tennis court fence having veered off the road on a sweeping bend.
"It's gut-wrenching, to be honest. It was avoidable. Everyone's just gutted that someone would put the child at risk," said Marianne Poszeluk, Ms Lucas' boss at Jarks Cafe at Waimarama Beach.
"Steph's a valued member of our staff, a really good worker and a young girl trying to make a good life for herself.
"It's just ... a series of bad decisions leading to something that could be avoided.
"She adored that little girl. She's just like a doting, doting mum."
Ashlee arrived in Auckland for surgery to serious head injuries, and it was believed she had swelling on her brain.
Ms Poszeluk said Ms Lucas had suffered several breaks, including a fractured cheekbone, which needed urgent surgery before she could travel to Auckland to be with Ashlee.
Yesterday afternoon all four adults remained in Hawkes Bay Hospital with serious injuries.
The crash is the latest in a series of serious quad bike incidents, including the Boxing Day death of 16-year-old Rowan Cai Parker, who crashed a quad bike on a friend's Otagofarm.
Yesterday the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment issued a warning for farmers to keep safe, saying research showed longer daylight hours increased the likelihood of quad bike accidents.
Senior Sergeant Luke Shadbolt said accidents on rural properties made it hard to police reckless use of quad bikes. But crashes on public roads would be investigated in the same way as any other motor vehicle accident.
Police will interview all the adults who were on the overloaded quad bike with Ashlee when it crashed.
"When they were admitted to hospital last night we took blood samples of all four adults for analysis," said Mr Shadbolt, "and there may well be charges pending as a result."
Quad-bike deaths in 2012
December: Rowan Cai Parker, 16, died on an Otago farm.
November: Lance Nelson Renall, 64, died on his Hawkes Bay farm.
October: Chelsea Callaghan, of Melbourne, died after an accident near Onewhero.
October: Shane William White, 10, died in Wairarapa.
July: US man Jeffrey Robert Frum, 21, died at Hahei.
March: Luke James Randle, 20, died at Foxton Beach.
January: East Coast golfing identity Peter Rouse, 74, died on a Tokomaru Bay farm.
- APNZ, Hawke's Bay Today