A talented Hawke's Bay woman, who tragically died with her stepson in a collision with a freight train, was always destined to be a lawyer, her devastated mother says.

Even when still a toddler, Jessica Greig had been bubbly, clever and never short of words.

"It was funny, but we knew from the age of 2 she was going to be a lawyer - it was just the way she was," her mum Mel Mansell told the Herald.

Tragically, Greig died with stepson Reign Watene, almost one year to the day after she was admitted to the High Court bar.

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New Zealand Army soldier and Reign's dad, Luke Watene, was also hurt in Wednesday's crash, when the car they were travelling in collided with a train at a railway crossing at Woodville, near Palmerston North.

Jessica Greig's former boss at Cathedral Lane, Philip Ross, described her as
Jessica Greig's former boss at Cathedral Lane, Philip Ross, described her as "a bubbly, vivacious young woman with a stack of ability". Photo / Duncan Brown

The freight train is understood to have pushed the mangled wreck of the couple's car 100m past the Troup Rd crossing.

Reign's birth mother, who is also understood to be a member of the New Zealand Defence Force, boarded a flight home from duty in Iraq after receiving news of her son's death.

Mansell said she had welcomed Watene and Reign into her family as if they were her own children.

"[Reign was the] most adorable wonderful boy ever – he was my moko," she said on Friday, moments before the pre-schooler's body was due to arrive at Tangoio Marae, north of Napier, where Greig's body had also been brought.

Watene was out of hospital and accompanied Reign's body to the marae.

Once he was honoured at Tangoio Marae, the pre-schooler's body was then due to be taken to his birth mother's home so he would be there when she arrived back from Iraq.

Emergency services attend the scene of a fatal crash involving a car and a train at Woodville near Palmerston North. Photo / Stephen Carle
Emergency services attend the scene of a fatal crash involving a car and a train at Woodville near Palmerston North. Photo / Stephen Carle

Mansell said Greig's death had been as heartbreaking as it was sudden.

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She had been older sister to a stepbrother and had many cousins she grew up with.

"Everybody is in shock – she's the leader, the first of the mokos," Mansell said.

"She was their inspiration, their role model.

"It is going to be a huge funeral – she had so many friends and she was loyal to family and loyal to friends."

One of Greig's first loves had been sport - any sport she could get her hands and feet on.

She loved basketball, netball, rugby and soccer and had been in a number of junior representative teams.

She even played sport with inmates at the Hawke's Bay Regional Prison, where her mum Mansell worked, starting from when she was just 11.

Greig also loved travelling, visiting Japan during a gap year between Napier Girls' High School - where she studied Japanese - and the start of her law course at Otago University.

She followed that up with a year in the United Kingdom.

Jessica Greig's mother Mel Mansell said Jessica's death had been as heartbreaking as it was sudden. Photo / Supplied
Jessica Greig's mother Mel Mansell said Jessica's death had been as heartbreaking as it was sudden. Photo / Supplied

Her first job came at Napier firm Cathedral Lane Law as a law clerk before, being admitted to the bar not long after on July 25 last year.

Forty minutes after being admitted, she was back in court on a case.

"That is how fast she worked," Mansell said.

Her former boss at Cathedral Lane, Philip Ross, described Greig as "a bubbly, vivacious young woman with a stack of ability".

"She was well-regarded by everyone who worked with her. She had a great future, it is an absolute tragedy. A tragic loss to the profession," he said.

Mansell said Ross even learned Maori so he could use the language during the ceremony to admit her to the bar.

Greig later crossed over to Bay Legal, an all-female firm in Hastings.

She quickly blossomed in the short time she spent under the tutelage of Bay Legal's strong women, Mansell said.

When Greig and Watene met they quickly fell in love and would have been together two years this coming Christmas.

They had bought a house and land together, while keeping up a long distance relationship, between Napier and Linton where Watene was based with the army.

Greig took on everything with passion and energy.

"I was just so proud of her," Mansell said.

"She set goals and just did them."