'Star' rider cheeky Charlie mourned

18:14, Jan 07 2014
Charlie Vercoe
TRAGEDY: Charlie Vercoe was killed in a quad bike accident.

The 6-year-old Invercargill boy killed while riding an adult quad bike on a farm was a "mischievous and super kid" who loved miniature horses.

Charlie John Vercoe died after the quad bike crashed on a farm at Lorneville near Invercargill about 5.30pm on Monday.

Detective Sergeant Grant Johnstone, of Invercargill, said Charlie and his 12-year-old brother were out together riding quad bikes when the crash happened.

Wallacetown volunteer firefighter Brendan Hamilton said Charlie, who was visiting the property, was pinned under the adult quad bike and submerged in a creek.

He had been freed by people on the farm by the time firefighters arrived but had been trapped under the vehicle for several minutes, Hamilton said.

The boy had a helmet on but was on the vehicle by himself, he said.


Southland police were continuing their investigation into the death.

Initial indications were that Charlie lost control of the quad bike, which rolled before landing in a ditch of water.

He was taken to Southland Hospital where he died.

Southern Miniature Horse Club publicity officer Hazel Leckie, where Charlie was a member, said he was a keen horseman who would be sorely missed by everyone at the club.

"The club is devastated and all our thoughts are with Charlie's family," she said.

"He was a super, super kid, a little mischievous at times but pleasant and well-mannered like all good kids."

Charlie and his family were all associated with the club and he was a real star, Leckie said.

At a Southern Miniature Horse Club event held in November, Charlie picked up three first places.

The photograph provided by Charlie's parents yesterday shows a proud, smiling boy with a miniature horse and his ribbon.

The whole club was really closeknit and the death would be particularly hard on fellow club member Cara Scott and her husband, Owen Scott, on whose farm the accident happened, Leckie said.

Charlie's parents were being supported by family members and Victim Support.

A spokeswoman for the family said the boy's parents were not ready to speak to the media at this time.

"It is a terrible tragedy and they are just trying to process their grief," she said.

St Patrick's School principal Callan Goodall said Charlie had attended the school in 2012, but moved to Tisbury School last year.

"He was a quiet wee boy … but had a spark in his eye that made him very popular among the other students," he said.

Police said the incident was a tragic reminder of the need for a high level of safety around farm vehicles.

The investigation was at an early stage.

WorkSafe New Zealand has also launched an inquiry into the boy's death.


Charlie's death is a terrible tragedy, said Southland Federated Farmers boss Russell MacPherson, and he hoped lessons can be learned from it.

MacPherson, who yesterday expressed the federation's condolences to the youngster's family, said Charlie's death was another warning that quad bikes were dangerous and should be treated with respect.

"They are a farm tool, not a farm toy."

Quad bikes looked like fun and could be fun but were terribly dangerous machines, especially in the hands of young people, MacPherson said.

"This is a reminder to parents and grandparents, our children and grandchildren should not be on adult quad bikes, it's that simple."

Full-sized four-wheelers carried labels from the manufacturer specifying no-one under 16 should ride one.

The adult-size four-wheelers were heavy, powerful machines and needed an adult to control them, MacPherson said.

"You need weight to manoeuvre and control an adult four-wheeler and kids don't have that."

No passengers should be carried on a four-wheeler either, unless designed to do so: passengers restrict the rider's mobility and add weight, making it harder to control and more prone to tipping over.

"This is a terrible tragedy for the family involved, for Southland and farming communities and if anything can come out of it, it will be a reminder that four-wheelers are dangerous and potentially can kill," MacPherson said.

While one death resulting from a quad bike was one too many, MacPherson said the fatality rate with quad bikes needed to be put in perspective when compared with cars and motorcycles, which killed hundreds of people each year.

"There may be four or five quad-bike deaths a year and most of these are not through farming but as a result of recreational use," he said.


WorkSafe New Zealand recorded 29 work-related quad bike fatalities between 2006 and 2012, and 260 incidents of quad bike-related serious harm between 2009 and 2012.

Those figures exclude deaths and injuries in work-related road crashes, which are investigated by the police.

The figures are bothering coroners and the regulator. There is to be a forum before the end of March to commit to an action plan to improve quad bike safety.

On average five people die and 850 are injured annually on quad bikes, WorkSafe statistics show.

Recent deaths included:

Shane White, 10, who was found pinned under a quad bike in October 2012 on the Wairarapa farm where his family were sharemilkers. Efforts to revive him failed.

Rowan Parker, 16, of South Otago, who lost control of a quad bike and fell 150-200 metres off a cliff at a farm in December 2012.

Hamish Baxter, 45, who was found dead on the side of the road next to his mid-Canterbury farm last January, after crashing his quad bike while going to check on irrigation.

Farmhand Gary Tantrum, 44, who died after his bike toppled over and pinned him, while he was shifting cows on steep ground at a South Waikato dairy farm in March 2013.

Eric Schollum, 72, who died when his quad bike rolled as he was working on a sheep and beef farm near Warkworth, north of Auckland, in July.

Ashlee Shorrock, then aged 6, was badly hurt in a quad bike crash in Waimarama in January last year.

A court heard her father, Daniel McGregor, 28, was drunk when the quad bike he was driving crashed down a bank in the beachside settlement.

She suffered a fractured skull and injuries to her face, neck, spine and back. Three adult passengers had broken bones.

McGregor was sentenced to nine months' home detention and disqualified from driving for two years.

Last November, at the joint inquest into five quad bike deaths, coroner Brandt Shortland made a series of recommendations aimed at reducing deaths.

Among those recommendations was preventing children from operating adult machines, a warning that was tragically not followed.

The Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE) said it would call together all parties involved - manufacturers, farming leaders, community leaders and trainers - to work through how recommendations could be implemented.

WorkSafe has since taken over the health and safety side of MBIE and a spokesman said the forum would be held no later than the end of March.

"Coroner Shortland's recommendations are a natural spur to build an enhanced programme of activity to drive down fatalities and serious injuries on these machines in New Zealand's rural [and other] workplaces," the spokesman said.

The Southland Times