Today would have been Nivek Madams' ninth birthday - but instead of a little girl's party full of laughter, kids' games and sparkly presents, her family decorated her grave with helium balloons and flowers.

"Today is Nivek's first birthday in heaven," godmother Joy Clark told the Herald.

Clark and Nivek's mother, Ani Nohinohi, gathered with extended family at the Whanganui cemetery earlier today to celebrate the 8-year-old's short life.

They marked the day with a unicorn party and remembered a bright young girl who was "funny, engaging and clever" and who had dreams of becoming a doctor.

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Nivek Madams holds her baby sister, Shady Thompson. Photo / Joy Clark
Nivek Madams holds her baby sister, Shady Thompson. Photo / Joy Clark

But, Nivek will never attend medical school. She was one of seven people killed in a two-vehicle crash just outside of the Taranaki town of Waverley on June 27 last year.

She had celebrated her eighth birthday the day before the crash, and two days later she died from her injuries.

Nohinohi was the sole survivor. Her partner, Jeremy Thompson, 28, and 6-month-old daughter Shady Thompson, also died.

Ian Porteous, 80, his wife, Rosalie, 76, his sister Ora Keene, 84, and friend Brenda Williams, 79, were travelling in the other vehicle and also died at the scene. Their lives will be marked at an event taking place at the Waverley Bowling Club on Saturday.

Nivek's family gathered at the Whanganui cemetery earlier today to celebrate the 8-year-old's short life with a unicorn party. Photo / Supplied Joy Clark
Nivek's family gathered at the Whanganui cemetery earlier today to celebrate the 8-year-old's short life with a unicorn party. Photo / Supplied Joy Clark

The four victims were all associated with the club and are said to have been a big part of the South Taranaki community.

Bowling club bar manager Stuart Buckman said it's a place where they were all well liked.

"It was utterly devastating. If you take a few members out of a small club like ours you really feel it."

At the Waverley Racing Club, members will also be marking the anniversary of the crash, which happened on the road outside the club's premises. The club had a race meet the day after the crash last year, and attendees were stunned as the horror of the accident became known.

This year's June race meet at the club falls on the same date as the anniversary of the crash.

Ian Porteous and his wife Rosalie Porteous were killed in the crash on State Highway 3 near Waverley. Photo / Supplied
Ian Porteous and his wife Rosalie Porteous were killed in the crash on State Highway 3 near Waverley. Photo / Supplied

Its jockeys plan to wear black armbands to acknowledge the incident and observe a moment of silence. The race-day programme will also make special mention to those lost in the incident.

Meanwhile, Nivek's former school, Stratford Primary, is taking time out of their day on Friday to remember the former pupil.

Volunteers are visiting the school and will be working on the garden where there is a memorial for Nivek.

"A tree was planted last year following the crash and it's been pride and place for the Room 20 kids," deputy principal Aaron Moore said.

"The kids have some paintings that have been done to go on the fence nearby."

'The loss is profound'

But beyond the public memorials, the families of those killed in one of the country's deadliest crashes are still coming to terms with their loss.

A year on, Clark said the initial shock had worn off and they were now battling debilitating grief.

Joy Clark with her god-daughter Nivek Madams. Photo / Supplied Joy Clark
Joy Clark with her god-daughter Nivek Madams. Photo / Supplied Joy Clark

"I am now in a worse state than I was a year ago. I cry all the time," she said.

Nohinohi suffered extensive injuries - some of which still affect her to this day.

"She was injured head to toe and unconscious for quite some time. She has a moderate brain injury and quite a bad limp," Clark said.

"Her short-term memory has been affected, she has difficulty doing things and extreme tiredness – but it is nothing compared to what is going on in her heart.

"She was so close to Nivek, that loss is profound. Nivek was a mini Ani and her soulmate."

Clark said Nohinohi had struggled since the incident.

"She didn't get to see Nivek's body because the hospital wouldn't allow it, and she wasn't able to go to the funeral - which has interfered with her grieving. Her mother also died of cancer just after the accident.

"It is critical for me that Ani survives all of this. I couldn't bear for anything to happen to Ani but I do worry," she said.

The seven victims of a horrific crash north of Waverley on June 27 last year. Photo / Stuart Munro and Supplied
The seven victims of a horrific crash north of Waverley on June 27 last year. Photo / Stuart Munro and Supplied

'Mistakes have been made'

An inquest last month revealed Nohinohi and Thompson had repeatedly smoked synthetic drugs before driving that day.

Clark said Nohinohi had huge regrets.

"She has so much to carry because the deaths of seven people have impacted on her. That is a huge burden," she said.

"Her family are on her side looking after her and have always stood by her, but we all know that mistakes have been made.

"Any one of those people would go back and change things if they could."

The officer in charge of the incident, Detective Karl Reyland, said Thompson had smoked more than three cones of synthetic cannabis on the morning of the fatal crash.

The seven crosses on the side of SH3 north of Waverley mark the scene of the tragedy. Photo / Melissa Nightingale
The seven crosses on the side of SH3 north of Waverley mark the scene of the tragedy. Photo / Melissa Nightingale

The family were on there way to see Clark in Whanganui when they stopped at a park in Hawera and continued smoking the drug.

Shortly after, while heading south on State Highway 3, Thompson lost control of the vehicle, crossed the centreline and collided with the other vehicle involved in the crash.

Nohinohi admitted she had also consumed synthetic cannabis and could not remember anything about the crash.

In a statement read out at the inquest by Joy Clark, Nohinohi said she was "very sorry about the tragic outcome".

"Because of some poor choices seven people lost their lives. I am so sorry for all who are suffering.

"I live not just with physical pain and a brain injury but also with the loss of my beautiful girls Nivek and Shady. I have wanted to join them in heaven many times but I cannot put my family and friends through more pain.

"Again, I am very sorry about what has happened. I think about everyone who died and of my own losses and everyone who is now sad."

'Roadside drug testing is immensely important'

Logan Porteous, the son of Ian and Rosalie, wants to see a change happen at Government level.

Porteous is calling on the Government to introduce compulsory roadside drug testing as a result of the inquest.

"We will as a family fight for this in the name of the innocent people who were killed in this accident, as a result of a driver under the influence of drugs," he said last month.

It's a proposal South Taranaki Mayor Ross Dunlop says he "totally supports".

Whanganui MP Harete Hipango also supports the action and says the impact of the incident stretches far.

"There'll be heartfelt feeling throughout the Waverley community but the rest of us throughout the country feel that as well. An event like this impacts on everyone as communities.

"Roadside drug testing is immensely important and I think it is getting uptake because communities are pushing back and saying we've had significant losses of life due to drug impairment."