By Whakatāne Beacon
Tributes are flowing following the deaths of Ōpōtiki woman Kaye Ene, nee Tai, and her caregiver Moewai Hope, of Waiohau in a car crash at Waiotahe on Wednesday.
The pair were in a van that collided head-on with a ute on State Highway 2 near the intersection of Ohiwa Beach Rd at 2.28pm.
The driver and passenger in the ute were injured and taken to hospital, one has since been discharged.
Ōpōtiki Mayor Lyn Riesterer said the whole community was in shock over the loss of two lives in the crash, but Ene's loss was particularly tragic as she had already fought her way back from a traffic accident in December 2019, which left her a paraplegic.
She had been one of 10 Ōpōtiki Primary School staff injured when their van was involved in a head-on collision on the way home from an end-of-year outing in Rotorua.
"It just seems so unfair. People are devastated," Riesterer, who knew Ene as a teacher's aide said.
"When we're such a close-knit community, this really cuts deep. She was just one of those sunny personalities that everyone got on well with."
Hundreds of tributes and condolences have been posted on social media pages remembering her big smile, even bigger heart, her crack-up sense of humour, sense of fun and love for her home town.
Relative and Ōpōtiki District councillor Louis Rāpihana spoke to the Whakatāne Beacon on behalf of Ene's whānau.
"Kaye was one of these people who was larger than life and never let anything get in her way. Even with the struggles of her last accident.
"A normal person would go down quite fast, but Kaye had the strength to actually power on through. Through all the struggles, she came out better.
"She was born and bred here in Ōpōtiki, and she was very much an Ōpō girl. No other place could compare to Ōpōtiki for her and she always made sure to promote and celebrate all the greatness of the town and its community and also of the families that live here.
"She was a person who never saw the bad, and always brought the good out in a bad situation. It was amazing how she could make people laugh, in bad times. She would just bring such a smile over everyone's face, and more so after her accident."
Rāpihana said she was involved in whatever was happening around town and made sure to let him know what needed to be improved, "and what she saw as the council's responsibilities and wrongdoings".
"Not just our family, our hapū or our iwi but the entire Ōpōtiki community is grieving at this stage. It's such a tragic loss, for someone who was so strong and willing to give everything a go, no matter what her disabilities were from the accident."
He said they also felt bad for her children after all their struggles.
"Not just from their mother's initial accident but also with their father's health. They had been together for a long time and had five children.
"They supported each other and they were so strong together. So much that after her accident they actually got married. Her dream was to go back to where they had their first kiss which was under a tree in John Burdett Park.
"Unfortunately, the tree was no longer there so she couldn't have [her wedding] there, but she found another tree in the park that she liked very much and we had it there.
"The entire community pulled together to make that happen for her. That's just how much the community loved her. The park was full."
Rāpihana said a private mourning was being held last night with Ene at home and the wider community could attend the tangi at Opeke Marae in Waioweka.
"The whānau are putting together everything they can to celebrate her life. Her husband really wants everyone to be able to mourn his wife, whether they're vaccinated or not.
"So, for us, it is a matter of looking at that and how we can manage that on the marae. The marae have their protocols that they need to follow and we'll try to fit in with that, as much as possible to make it easier for everyone and ensure everyone is safe.
"We have to be wary of Covid and manage that as well as possible. But we're lucky that we have the space at our marae so we are able to manage that and have events outside."
Rāpihana also wanted to pay respects to Ene's caregiver and driver Moewai Hope.
He said she was Tūhoe, from Waiohau, though she lived near Braemar.
"She was Kaye's favourite carer and Kaye was her favourite client. She travelled far to come here to perform her job caring for Kaye.
"It's quite even-hearted that they both went at the same time."
He said the two families had been able to come together on the evening of the crash, for a karakia.
"Hopefully, at some stage, we will be able to come together again and celebrate both of them together."
Speed not a factor
Police say speed was not a factor in the crash on Wednesday.
A police spokesperson said the van hit the barrier of the bridge just past the intersection then swerved into oncoming traffic, colliding with the ute carrying two people.
Emergency services were called to the accident at 2.28pm.
The incident was attended to by two ambulances, one rapid response unit, one manager, and two helicopters from Tauranga and Waikato hospitals, a St John spokesperson said.
Three patients were treated at the scene before being rushed to hospital.
One patient admitted to Whakatāne Hospital has since been discharged.
Police said one of the deceased was not restrained at the time of the crash. Investigations into the crash are continuing.