One of the utes involved in a crash where three people died had been reported stolen.
Three people - a married couple in their 60s and a 20-year-old man - were killed and the young man's father is in hospital following a two-vehicle collision at the Kopu Bridge in Coromandel.
The bridge, near Thames, was closed in both directions overnight following the collision between two utes about 8.30pm.
Police have confirmed one of the utes was part of an Auckland purchase that went wrong, and was reported stolen.
The married couple, from the Thames area, who were in one ute, and a young man who was driving the other ute, died at the scene.
The man's 54-year-old father was helicoptered to Middlemore Hospital in a critical condition.
A hospital spokeswoman said this morning he was stable.
A motorist who said he missed the accident by seconds described the deaths as "truly devastating".
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."
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 crash is being investigated by the Serious Crash Unit but initial indications suggest the car driven by the 20-year-old crossed the centre line and collided with the other car.
The road had been reopened about 3am.
Eighteen Fire and Emergency NZ firefighters from Thames and Ngatea attended the crash.
Thames Fire Brigade senior station officer Shane Bromley was at the scene, where he said they had to cut the solo survivor out of their vehicle.
The survivor was transported to hospital by helicopter.
Bromley could not confirm the nature of the patient's injuries - he said it was common for crews to "switch off" in a sense, to better cope with what they were seeing.
"I couldn't even tell you what colour the vehicles were - that's the way these incidents are."
Kopu Mobil station worker Neil said there'd been a flurry of police activity.
"Three, four cop cars came flying past, and then probably three fire trucks.
"They were in a hurry, it seemed very dramatic, so something bad's happened."
He said the service station was full at the time of the crash.
"It's been really busy here... and with the school holidays, there's a lot of people on the road."
Police units, ambulance, fire trucks and a rescue helicopter responded to the accident. The Serious Crash Unit was also there.
A Fire and Emergency spokesperson had confirmed four people were trapped.
A local resident told the Herald a rescue chopper landed at the scene about 9.20pm.
Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter crew chief Mark Cannell said they were initially told there were four critically-injured people, trapped in the vehicles.
On their way there, three of them died.
"When we got there we saw extensive damage. We uplifted the male survivor from one of the vehicles.
"He was initally critical, with multiple injuries, but was in a serious condition by the time we got to Middlemore Hospital."
Motorists were asked to avoid the area with diversions in place overnight.
The bridge forms part of State Highway 25, connecting Thames to the Hauraki district.
In a statement, NZTA said: "Due to a crash on the Western side of the Thames Bridge, the road is closed. Emergency services are on site. Please delay your journey or use an alternative route."
The Kopu Bridge was replaced with two-lane bridge in 2011. It spans the Waihou River, near its emergence into the Firth of Thames and is 587m long.
Oil marks scene of deadly crash
Contractors from Higgins dodged a steady trickle of traffic heading over Kopu Bridge this morning, laying down grit in between passing cars.
The grit covered a dark oil mark on the road - one of the few marks left by the triple fatal crash.
A worker at the scene told the Herald the grit product was called 'mineral sponge'.
"It's absorbs oils and diesels and it's pretty good at drying up the road," he said.
The worker said the oil left behind by the crash had covered a substantial amount of road.
"Obviously when people are moving around the scene that oil gets slipped around."
Contractors next moved on to filling in several small holes caused by the collision, with a mix of tar and shingle.
Bad year on NZ roads
Police were also this morning at a serious crash near Hanmer Springs in the South Island.
Emergency services were called to the crash on Percival Bridge on Hanmer Springs Road at 4.08am.
Two people have been taken to Christchurch Hospital, one with critical injuries and the other with serious injuries.
The road is closed and diversions are in place at River Rd and Jollies Pass Rd.
The Serious Crash Unit is at the scene.
Meanwhile, a man has been found dead near a motorbike on a Central Hawke's Bay farm.
Police and emergency services provided medical attention after the discovery at 5am this morning, but the man in his 50s died at the scene.
Police have referred to the incident as a sudden death.
The death is likely to be referred to WorkSafe and will be referred to the coroner.
A total of 125 people have died on the country's roads so far this year - 18 more than at this point last year.
These deaths have occurred in 109 fatal crashes - 12 more than last year.
Police were called at 6.30am yesterday morning to another two-car crash on SH2 just north of Dannevirke, where a motorist died.