Trapped driver could have been freed sooner

A man who died in his smashed car surrounded by live power cables could have been pulled out within an hour if the power had been isolated sooner, an inquest has heard.

However, Favona resident Raymond Piripi Tuporo, 26, was trapped in his vehicle for more than two hours after hitting a concrete power pole in the Auckland suburb of Onehunga on September 2, 2012.

By the time the high-voltage electrical lines were disabled and it was safe for paramedics to get to him, he had died from head and neck injuries.

Yesterday, ambulance staff told an inquest in Auckland how they watched Tuporo slowly die in his car as power company staff on site tried to cut off the electricity.

Emergency services were at the accident scene in minutes but could not treat Tuporo for fear of electrocution.

His family were outraged, believing he could have been saved if things had been done more quickly.

The inquest began in Auckland yesterday and Coroner Morag McDowell said the hearing would take an "unusual" staged format, first taking evidence from those who were at the scene, before experts analysed that evidence.

The case would then go back before the coroner where those experts would give their findings. The final stage would see electricity providers questioned over their role.

Coroner McDowell stressed the inquiry was not about apportioning blame.

Today Mt Wellington senior fire station officer Robin Ness, who was in charge of extracting Tuporo from the wreckage, told the inquest that if the victim had been alive and they had operated with urgency they could have got to him within 40 minutes to an hour.

In his 40 years of experience, it was the first time Ness had seen an incident where live power cables hung inside a vehicle.

Lawyers for Vector asked him whether the lines could have been removed by using wooden poles as was sometimes done by the fire service.

"It's a judgement call and it's a risky call to make," Ness said.

"In this situation there was no way we were going to touch the car."

His evidence could be pivotal in determining whether Tuporo could have been saved had the power been turned off sooner.

St John Ambulance paramedic Andrew Christie said yesterday that there were two power company representatives on site who looked "very anxious" as they tried to isolate the power supply, making it safe to access the vehicle.

The process was slowed down because they could not find the appropriate power box, Christie overheard.

The first police officer on site Senior Sergeant Simon Welsh told the coroner yesterday that he repeatedly contacted police communications to urgently get in touch with Vector.

Tuporo, a truck driver, originally decided not to go out on the night of September 1 but text messages from friends changed his mind, the inquest heard.

He left for a party in Otara with a blanket and pillow and assured his mother Glenda Olsen he would not drink and drive.

However, after consuming a significant amount of alcohol, Tuporo drove off with a friend whom he took home.

"He was wasted when he dropped me off," the man told police.

Blood tests showed Tuporo's alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit and the police serious crash unit investigation put his speed as high as 122kmh at the time he lost control of his vehicle.

While travelling west down Neilson St at about 2.15am, he skidded on to the wrong side of the road before veering back.

But he could not right the Mitsubishi Lancer, mounted the curb and hit a concrete power pole.

Welsh told the inquest he got as close as he could to establish the state of the driver.

"I saw his head in the rear passenger area but the rest of his body was not visible because the vehicle's interior had collapsed around him," Welsh said.

He asked Tuporo his name but only received strained noises in response.

It was only by about 4.40am - nearly two and a half hours after the crash - that emergency services could safely access the wrecked car.

Tuporo was pronounced dead at the scene and was eventually extracted from the wreck at 6.40am.

This first stage of the inquest will conclude today.