The man charged with careless use of a vehicle causing the deaths of David Reginald Te Wira Epairama, Haki Graham Hiha and Dudley Soul Raroa, wept as he left the Whakatāne District Court.
David Michael Cox looked terrified throughout his brief appearance, keeping his head down and hands clasped at the front of his body.
Judge Louis Bidois addressed family members of the three men killed once Cox was in the dock, speaking to them in Māori and saying "kia kaha".
Cox's lawyer Gene Tomlinson, who appeared on behalf of Tauranga solicitor Tony Balme, did not apply for name suppression but did ask that media applications to film, photograph and record court proceedings be deferred until his next appearance on April 17.
Judge Bidois said it did not appear identity was an issue so granted the applications.
Cox was remanded until that date.
Several of the men's family members were in the public gallery.
One family member was seen holding a photo of Hiha.
Outside the court he broke down in tears and was hugged by supporters.
A young woman at the court could be heard calling Cox a "weed" and saying he was having a "sookie bubba".
Other family members of the dead men appeared to be more subdued, hugging each other before leaving.
The three men were killed on the Matatā straights of SH2, near Whakatāne while they worked to clear a culvert at the side of the road about 1.50pm on February 26.
Police said four trucks were involved in the incident.
All three men worked for contracting firm Higgins.
Earlier this month a blessing took place on the Matatā straights at the site where three Higgins workers were killed.