The 20-year-old driver of a stolen ute that caused a triple fatal crash in Coromandel was on bail for drugs charges and had previously broken his neck in a serious car smash.
Haydn David Clark, 20, from Drury, was driving the ute that police say crossed the centre line and collided with a car in which Jocelyn (Anne) Fielder, 64, and her husband Ian, 66, were travelling.
All three were killed in the crash near the Kopu Bridge on State Highway 25 last night.
The couple, described as "fun-loving, friendly" people, were returning home to Turua after having dinner at a friend's house.
Clark was driving a ute which police say had been reported stolen. It crossed the centre line and collided with the Fielders' vehicle, police said. Clark's father Jim, 54, survived the crash and is in hospital.
Clark was facing methamphetamine charges and was on bail, including a 24-hour curfew order.
A small crowd of family and friends, including children, are gathered outside the home of Haydn Clark's family in Drury.
The home is at the rear of a block of units. People are standing outside the unit.
Clark's Facebook page shows he crashed a car in 2014 and suffered a broken neck, which required a hospital stay and him to wear a "halo" head brace.
One post refers to him losing his driver's licence, having a vehicle green stickered for not complying with road rules and stating that he owed more than $1000 in fines.
In August 2015 he posted a picture of a mangled car with the caption saying it was about a year since he wrote it off.
Friends jokingly commented he "still hadn't learned", with another saying he was lucky to be alive.
Clark commented saying he had learned his lesson since the 2015 accident, adding he had "munted that car".
Clark had posted several videos of car-related stunts, including one in April 2016 where a car was shown speeding down a road, spinning out and leaving plumes of smoke in its wake.
The month before he had posted a video with a car he said was at his house pulling a similar stunt.
"Lazy drivway skid at mine [sic]," he said.
Another post asked whether anyone "got any vids of me doing skids in the corvette can u post them? [sic]"
Several posts referred to incidents where Clark had appeared in court or had altercations with police.
Two flowers have been placed at the scene of the crash.
The gerberas were the only thing to mark where the crash took place, after contractors covered up an oil slick earlier this morning.
The Fielders' neighbour said the couple had been on their way home from a friend's place, where they had dinner every Thursday, when the crash happened last night.
"It was a little ritual they had," he said.
The neighbour said he was heartbroken at the deaths of the couple, who he described as "fun-loving, friendly" people.
He had heard the crash shortly after finishing work in Kopu last night.
He was washing his truck in a yard in Kopu when he heard the bang, from the crash.
"I thought that someone had dropped something from the freight yard. Then I heard sirens.
"Then I came over the bridge to come home and bang, there it all was."
He didn't find out his neighbours were involved until this morning.
Speaking to the Herald about hearing the news, he had to fight back tears.
"I couldn't believe it. I still can't believe it.
"It's just wrong."
The neighbour said they had lived in the area for "30 years or so".
They had raised their children there. Their grandchildren lived in the area too, and had been friends with the neighbours' children.
"If the grandkids had a party we would go over, have a couple of drinks and that kind of thing," he said.
Anne Fielder had been a meat inspector and Ian was a forklift driver.
Outside of work, he said they were "neat" people who enjoyed a laugh as well as being outdoors.
"They loved their golf, loved fishing."
Anne Fielder, in particular, was very down to earth.
"A spade is a spade with Anne, that's just how she was."
Ute had been reported stolen
Police have confirmed that the ute driven by Clark had been reported stolen. It was believed to be involved in an Auckland purchase that had gone wrong.
The Kopu Bridge, near Thames, was closed in both directions overnight following the collision between two utes about 8.30pm.
Anne and Ian Fielder were in one ute, and Clark and his father Jim, 54, were in the other.
Jim Clark was helicoptered to Middlemore Hospital in a critical condition.
A hospital spokeswoman said this morning he was stable.
Clark's girlfriend Gabrielle Lee said on Facebook: "I love you rest in peace baby.
"And also Jim is in hospital in critical care he is going to be okay is what I've been told lots of love going out to him too this is a horrible time for everyone. Love you babe so much I can't believe this why why does this have to happen to you, you had so much potential and life in you, you taught me so much and showed me so much I love you so so so much."
Karl Smith said he had pulled to the side of the road on the west side of the bridge to make a quick, 14-second phone call.
"This was less than one minute before the crash," he wrote on Facebook. "I then pulled out near the front of the halted traffic when I found out this happened.
"If I didn't pull over, I might have ended up as part of the collision. Really scary to think of...
"My thoughts and prayers go towards the friends and relatives of the three killed and the one injured. Truly devastating."
Volunteer fire fighters will be offered support and counselling after saving the father at the "particularly nasty" crash scene last night.
The crash is being investigated by the Serious Crash Unit.
Thames chief fire officer Greg Rendall said the "high speed" crash was one of the worst he'd seen in 32 years working in fire and emergency.
"It's obviously the loss of life, and that loss of life affects so many [more] people's lives," he said.
Made up of volunteers from Ngatea and Thames, two crews had to cut the roof off the cab of the ute to pull out the crash's sole survivor.
Even after cutting the roof off the ute the man was so badly trapped they had to put the ute on its side to free him, tipping it back on to its wheels afterwards.
It was a quick and technical rescue, Rendall said.
"We're quite lucky, we've got some people with some good expertise."
After loading the man into the rescue helicopter, crews left the scene while police did a thorough investigation, returning a couple of hours later to remove the bodies.
"It was pretty horrific really. It's hard for everyone," Rendall said.
Fire and Emergency's Eastern Waikato area commander Aaron Waterreus did not attend the crash, but was in communication with crews throughout the night.
"It was a particularly nasty scene," Waterreus said.
"Our crews worked pretty hard to get the surviving member of that second ute out alive."
There was a peer support network and, if needed, psychologists could be called in to help crew members process what they'd seen, Waterreus said.
"It's always particularly hard on our crews when they're exposed to this sort of trauma, but we have a good support network."
Thames-Coromandel mayor Sandra Goudie lives on the hill above Kopu and saw the aftermath of the incident unfold.
She said when she saw the helicopter land for a crash so close to the hospital she knew the crash must have been serious.
Calling it a "tragedy all round", Goudie said she was now waiting to find out whether she knew anyone involved.
"It's just awful," she said.
"I'm just waiting to hear who the people are, because if they're from the area I'm dreading to know who that might be.
"It's just awful and it's so not necessary."
Police said there were two people in each vehicle.
Waikato Senior Sergeant Simon Cherry said the married couple were driving a Toyota ute and the father and son were in a Mazda ute.
The road had been reopened about 3am.