A father-of-six who died in a car crash on New Year's Eve had been grieving a beloved uncle who died suddenly just months before.

Tihioterangi Rei Edgecombe had spent December 31 last year fixing a car when he decided to see how it was running.

The 33-year-old missed a bend on Downs Rd, Spotswood, in North Canterbury, struck a tree and died just after 9pm.

Born in Feilding, Edgecombe grew up in Mangaweka in the Manawatu-Wanganui region, but moved to the North Canterbury town of Cheviot in December 2015.


He stayed with his aunty and uncle, Sharlene and Dennis Edgecombe, and picked up a job as a butcher's apprentice.

Edgecombe was "doing extremely well", his aunty says, until tragedy struck.

In August last year, 51-year-old Dennis was diagnosed with cancer and died a week later - the same day he finally married his partner of 31 years, Sharlene.

The shock death rocked Edgecombe.

"He idolised and loved his uncle dearly, he did everything for him. It was a big blow for him," Sharlene said.

Edgecomb left his job and attended his uncle's tangi in the North Island to pay his respects.

In the months before his death, he had been caring for his girlfriend's children while she worked, and looked after locals' cars and gardens.

"He was in a very happy place before he passed," Sharlene said.

"He had been fixing cars all day and had taken the car to check it was running all good ... he went around a bend and into a tree.

"I got a phone call just after midnight celebrating New Year, and the next phone call I got was to say that Tihi had been killed in a car accident. From that minute, we've been at his side the whole time."

Sharlene says he was known for his "cheeky smile" and had a love for children, having four daughters and two sons of his own.

His great passion was fixing cars.

"He was a grease monkey," Sharlene said.

"He was pretty much born with a crescent in his hand and would fix anyone's cars and he wouldn't be happy until he got them going.

"He'd developed a really good relationship with the locals in Cheviot. On the night of the big earthquake [on November 14], he went around checking if everyone was okay. He had a lot of trust, respect and a lot of friendship in the community."

His body arrived in his hometown of Mangaweka on Wednesday.

Today, he's being taken to the whanau's marae in Tumapahia in the Wairarapa for a tangi to be held tomorrow morning. He will be laid to rest beside his father, uncle and grandmother.

"He's got a very big family on both sides, so there's plenty of stories amongst the cuzzies especially. It's made something very sad actually quite nice in a way," Sharlene said.