A gang of shearers celebrating a job well done got caught up in the moment.
So when Watson Oliver Tipu, 31, hopped behind the wheel of his Toyota Avalon, it did not cross his mind that he shouldn't be driving.
He was nearly three times over the blood alcohol limit and driving so fast he did not have time to brake before colliding with a Toyota Landcruiser travelling in the opposite direction.
He and his three mates, Zyah Giaani Marsh, Kennedy James Weir and Raimon Taire Keefe, were killed in the crash on Mohaka Hill, near Wairoa, on January 25.
Front-seat passenger Vincent Hajnal-Huata, the only one wearing a seatbelt, was the sole survivor.
In findings made public yesterday, Hastings coroner Chris Devonport said all the deaths could have been prevented.
Tipu had the highest blood-alcohol reading of those killed, at 213 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood. The legal limit is 80mg.
Cherie Ultima Robinson told Mr Devonport that, after a morning shearing, she and the four who died went back to Mr Hajnal-Huata's house and started drinking at 11am. They continued drinking until 6pm.
She then left in her own car, and the rest followed in Mr Tipu's car, which he had bought just the month before.
"The whole carload of boys were wasted," she said in a written statement.
She believed Mr Tipu was driving about 140kmh when he passed her. She watched him take a tight bend, and cross the centre line into the path of a four-wheel-drive towing a boat. "Watson basically went head-on into the front of the truck," she said.
Matthew Jackson, of Waipukurau, was travelling just ahead of the Landcruiser when he passed Mr Tipu and Ms Robinson.
"They were going fast," he said. "You could really hear how fast they were going. I could hear the motor of the white car [Mr Tipu's] really making an effort to keep up."
Ashley Simmonds, a close friend of Mr Tipu, said: "I think they got carried away in the moment. They were having too much fun and he wouldn't have really thought about it.
"He made some mistakes but he was a really good person."
The coroner's findings come three weeks after a crash near Putorino, in Hawke's Bay, killed four farmhands.
Shearing Contractors Association president Barry Pullin said drink-driving was not a problem only in the shearing industry but was ingrained in New Zealand's culture.
The first step to addressing the issue was to get people talking about it. "If we can have groups of farmers, groups of shearers, groups of all manners of society, talking about drinking and driving and our attitudes to alcohol, maybe we can prevent an accident like this one."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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