A Hawke's Bay mechanic says he found two women - one unresponsive, the other trapped and covered in blood - as he rushed to the scene of a serious crash near Hastings yesterday.

Nearby resident Steve Harris was the first to respond to a collision between a car and van at the Pakowhai Rd and Richmond Rd junction at about 10.10am.

"The woman [in the red car] wouldn't respond to me and the woman in the white van was yelling at me and in considerable pain -- there was a lot of blood on her right leg."

The mechanic, who lives on nearby Morley Rd, told Hawke's Bay Today he automatically checked both vehicles to see if any fuel or oil was leaking before removing the battery leads to ensure the car and van were safe for the approaching paramedics.

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"[The woman in the van] was in pain and she could hardly move. And I wasn't sure if the leg was broken or what was wrong with it," he said.

"She kept asking me questions about the other woman. I didn't want to put her in any extra stress, so I just tried to keep her talking about something else."

He said he went back to check on the woman in the red car but again failed to gain a response. He learned of her death five minutes later when emergency services arrived and a white sheet was placed over her body.

He said he believed the woman had been knocked unconscious and was worried to move her out of fear she had a broken back.

Hawke's Bay Road Policing Sergeant Kevin Stewart said a 77-year-old woman died in the crash. He said she pulled out of Richmond Rd before the white van, travelling toward Hastings and slammed into the car's driver door. He said the driver of the van, aged in her 50s, received "quite a bad cut to her leg".

Mr Stewart said early investigations indicated the crash was "another preventable tragedy" on Hawke's Bay's roads. Police were informing the 77-year-old's family yesterday afternoon.

Motorist Vana Nicholas said she only narrowly missed possibly being another victim in the crash.

"I was right behind that ... poor lady so sad. But I'm so thankful it wasn't me and my family - 10 seconds off, it could have been us," she said on Facebook.

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A shocked Mr Harris said he had recorded "20 odd crashes" in the two-and-a-half years he had lived near the main arterial road, half of which he claims were serious. "Since the drop from 100km/h to 80km/h there has been less traffic along the road but there are a lot more heavy trucks.

"Every corner along here is very blind as well - you can't really see much."

He said "something needed to change", adding residents living near Pakowhai Rd were signing a petition to submit to Hastings District Council, asking for the speed limit to be dropped to 50km/h along the road.

Yesterday's death takes the 2014 road toll in the Hawke's Bay and Gisborne district to 17, already seven more than the 10 on the region's roads last year.

Before yesterday's crash the national road toll for 2014 stood at 252, already a significant increase on the 2013 figure of 215, according to New Zealand Transport Agency statistics.