The moment Dorothy Watson saw her son trying desperately to free his dying eldest boy from his crushed vehicle will haunt the Te Puke grandmother forever.

Paruhi Watson, 23, was driving home to his Manoeka Rd family homestead just after 6pm on Sunday when his car struck a lamp post and crashed into a tree.

Watson was trapped inside the vehicle on Jellicoe St and died soon after.

His first cousin and front-seat passenger, whose name has been withheld at the request of his family, is in a serious but stable condition in Tauranga Hospital. He has begun talking but has no recollection of the crash.

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Dorothy Watson said she and her son Mackie Watson jnr came across the crashed vehicle before emergency services got there, as they headed home from a shopping trip.

"We must have been right behind them and didn't know it until my son recognised the car and immediately jumped out and desperately tried to open the door to get to Paruhi.

"It was just awful and we still can't believe he's gone. It's been a huge shock, he was only 23. We will all miss Paruhi very much," she said.

Paruhi's aunt Rutu Watson said her nephew had just moved back to Te Puke from Australia with his wife Jade and their two preschoolers.

Paruhi had just begun to re-establish himself in the area, and Rutu Watson said the couple planned to build a home.

Rutu Watson, who flew home from Western Australia on Saturday, said the family were close-knit and everyone had taken Paruhi's death extremely hard.

"It was such a beautiful day on Sunday, and earlier in the day Paruhi had us all in fits as he helped his siblings and other family build a long-drop toilet on the homestead," she said.

She described her nephew as a "happy, loving, super family-focused" person.

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"He was so cheeky, mischievous and a right character who often had us crying with laughter over some of the things he came out with," she said.

He loved hunting and collecting kai with his brothers and cousins and also loved nothing better than sitting around trading jokes and funny stories with family.

Paruhi was the first of his generation in the family to die, and was being groomed to take over the mantle from his grandfather Mackie Watson snr, a well-respected Waitaha kaumatua, she said.

"In our family we don't just love, we love hard, and Paruhi's death has had a huge blow to our whole family," Rutu Watson said.

A post-mortem examination was being done in Rotorua yesterday.

Once Paruhi's body was released back to his family he would lie at the family's Hei Marae. Arrangements for his tangi were being finalised.

Head of Western Bay of Plenty road policing Senior Sergeant Ian Campion said the cause of the crash was still being investigated. It was the sixth road fatality in the district this year.

Paruhi Watson

The Te Puke-born man would have celebrated his 24th birthday in November.

He attended Te Puke Primary and Karratha High School in Western Australia.

He worked in the oil, gas and iron ore industry in Australia for several years, before deciding to return to his roots about four months ago.

He is survived by his wife Jade, and his son and daughter.

His parents Awhina and Mackie Watson jnr, and his grandparents Dorothy and Mackie Watson snr are well-known Te Puke identities.