Wrong-way crash prompts urgent sign review

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Last updated 12:35 03/04/2012
Nonu Vailahi
CHRIS SKELTON/FAIRFAX NZ
SURVIVOR: Nonu Vailahi believes Nasona Vakai turned the driver's side door towards the van moments before the crash, saving her life.

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The NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) has launched an ''immediate assessment'' of signage on motorway off-ramps following a head-on car crash that killed two people near Wellington.

Michael Joseph McKinnon, 39, of Grenada North, drove about a kilometre the wrong way down State Highway 1 before he crashed, killing himself and father-of-four Nasona Vakai, 51, about 8.40pm on Friday.

Nonu Vailahi, 21, from Porirua, was also injured in the crash.

The Churton Park off-ramp where McKinnon entered the motorway has no signage warning against entering the stretch of road.

NZTA Wellington operations manager Mark Owen said staff were investigating ways of preventing people from driving the wrong way on motorway off-ramps, which included assessing whether signage could be improved.

''It's highly likely this will result in improved signage being installed in coming weeks, once we've fully reviewed what is required and determined whether there's anything else we can do to prevent a tragedy like this from happening again.''

Kapiti Mana area commander Inspector John Price said yesterday police had received reports of similar incidents, and after Friday's crash approached the NZTA about putting up signs on off-ramps in the area.

Price revealed that McKinnon was catapulted through his windscreen and may not have been wearing a seatbelt when the crash happened.

He also said that alcohol was found at the scene, but it was yet to be determined whether it played a part in the crash.

McKinnon's "devastated" family issued a statement last night saying they were still coming to terms with his death.

"The fact that someone else died makes this doubly hard," family spokesman Paul McKinnon said. "We have conveyed our condolences to the Vakai family and deeply regret they are going through this tragedy."

Vailahi, nursing heavy bruising to her body and cuts to her hand and face, visited Vakai's family at their home in Cannons Creek yesterday afternoon.

She said she owed him her life. She believed he turned the driver's side door towards the van moments before the crash.

"He saved my life. It's good to see the family. I'm lucky to survive."

Vakai's sister, Eleta Vakai-Sio, said there were rumours after the crash that Vailahi had died, so she was relieved to see her alive.

"To know that somebody survived is a blessing and everybody is happy for that. It would have been another sad story if she would have passed away the same way."

There was speculation surrounding the crash, and family were searching for answers, she said. "If he [Mr McKinnon] was alive, I would go and ask him why did he drive down that way knowing that he shouldn't."

She said she was still coming to grips with her brother's death. The family were waiting for his body to be released ahead of his funeral later this week.

"I can't accept that he died by the road. It's like my worst nightmare. I'm trying to be strong for everybody, but I have got my moments where I can't hold myself together. It's just devastating for me."

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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