It is 1.30am. After an evening drinking with friends, Carcey Manuel, 22, and a group of mates roll up to popular late-night Retro bar at Kapiti Lights to see the car park filled with police, cordons, an ambulance and young women crying.
Ms Manuel is told that a 20-year-old called Sean has been stabbed to death, just five weeks after his rugby league colleague Izak Millanta was fatally beaten in the same spot.
"There was a group of about 30 people in the car park. The girls were crying and the boys were saying what a great guy he was," she says.
She later finds out the victim was Sean Strongman-Lintern, who went to Paraparaumu College with her. "He had been at my house recently. It breaks my heart, he is so young."
The deaths of Mr Strongman-Lintern and Mr Millanta, who was 17, have increased the challenge for police, the district council and others to come up with solutions to curb drunken violence around the bars at the Kapiti Lights junction.
Ms Manuel started going there six years ago, when huge brawls were commonplace in the car park, but she says tighter security, dress codes and entry charges at the bars have been introduced in recent years.
Even so, there are still regular clashes in the car park, often involving groups from Otaki, Paraparaumu and Porirua.
"People in the car park get angry, mouthy, they are generally the ones who cause trouble. Often drunk people in the car park get abusive."
And, as with bars all over the country on any given weekend, many of the people in them have been drinking before they get there.
"You do not plan to go there, you just end up there," she says.
Three bars are within a short distance of each other, all around the same shopping mall car park - Retro, Monteith's Junction bar, and its adjoining Cock bar.
A leaseholder of a shop at Kapiti Lights says most Sunday mornings the car park has to be cleaned of broken bottles, vomit, urine and faeces.
He and other lessees are planning to oppose an application being made by Monteith's for the Cock bar to get a tavern licence until 1am.
The Retro can already stay open until 3am.
"Three licensed premises in such a small area is just too much, he says. "When licensed premises in Otaki and Porirua close at midnight, they come here."
Kapiti Lights has a history of violent clashes and is the only spot in town with a bar open till 3am.
Across State Highway 1, young revellers returning from a night in Wellington can hop off trains at Paraparaumu station and head to the late-night party spot.
Nearby service stations selling pies, and takeaway food outlets that line the highway, are favourite late-night haunts for partygoers after the bars close, and police are frequently called there.
Late-night drinking escalating into crime and disorder has been a problem in Kapiti since 2008, Sergeant Jackie Muir says. "Young drunken males with aggressive and confrontational attitudes is a recipe for disaster."
In a late-night swoop on the Retro bar in June, police ejected nearly 20 drunk partygoers among about 150 people, mainly aged between 18 and 20, gathered there.
The following month they called the Wellington Public Safety Unit for backup to disperse about 200 drunk young people from a party in Rimu Rd on the periphery of town centre.
Police are busy every Friday and Saturday night attending disorder incidents, including fights and intentional damage, Ms Muir says, stressing that "drink is the link".
She maintains police, whose station is just over the fence from the Kapiti Lights car park, have kept a high profile around the bars, despite criticism of them not being present at the time of Mr Strongman-Lintern's death.
"We would like the community to know we are doing our absolute best," she says.
"Ordinarily we are there from midnight to 3am, unless there are calls for urgent service elsewhere, often to deal with arrests related to alcohol and disorder.
"We are not sitting in the station reading the newspaper."
When Mr Strongman-Lintern was stabbed, police were dealing with arrests from earlier disorder, and a call to another trouble spot - Paraparaumu railway station.
After Mr Millanta's death, some parents called for the Retro bar to be shut down. The Kapiti Lights complex is subject to a private 24-hour liquor ban imposed by the owners, and Kapiti Mana area commander Inspector John Price says that, when police detect breaches, they act.
In a letter to The Dominion Post, Mr Price said police would continue to take a zero-tolerance approach to alcohol-fuelled violence but the solution "lies with the community as well".
The Retro bar's licence is up for renewal, and police are applying to the Liquor Licensing Authority for restrictions.
Senior Sergeant Alasdair Macmillan does not want bars open later than 1am because it has been shown that one pub with a 3am licence attracts "people from other parts of not only Kapiti but Otaki and Porirua".
"It is unfortunate the two deaths have happened in that area. The problem is nationwide - people choosing to drink and use violence," he says.
Kapiti police are also working with Hospitality New Zealand to get an accord with all bars in the area by which people banned from one are also banned from all the others.
Increased closed-circuit television camera coverage, provided by police and Kapiti Coast District Council, has been installed on the police station this week overlooking Kapiti Lights complex, and the Junction bar is installing more lighting and boosting its CCTV coverage.
Police are also working with the council on making public areas of the Kapiti Coast alcohol-free between 9pm and 7am, Ms Muir says.
"That does not mean you cannot enjoy fish and chips and a glass of wine at the beach. Kapiti seems to have a population that consumes a lot of alcohol on private and public premises."
Trails of smashed letterboxes and beer bottles are regularly left in the wake of young people drinking and meandering along main roads.
Don Te Maipi, a kaumatua who performed blessings at the sites of both deaths, is working to get Maori wardens based in Kapiti.
Four wardens from Porirua and four volunteers from Kapiti started patrolling the area around Coastlands mall last night, and a silent candlelight vigil was held in the Kapiti Lights car park as a mark of respect to the two slain young men.
Mr Te Maipi believes the violence stems mainly from unemployment. He is organising a community meeting next week, and wants people to share ideas on how to provide "guidance for our tamariki".
"This is not a Maori problem, it is a community problem. I think our young ones are looking for help now."
The council, too, is working to increase safety in the area. Councillor Tony Lester says police have beefed up their physical presence and the council is employing a specialist to conduct an environmental safety audit, which will start next week.
"Most Kapiti residents are law-abiding. Kapiti is a safe place, there is the only one trouble spot.
"The level of violence fuelled by alcohol or drugs has shocked us all," he says.
"We need to quickly intervene and steer young people into more productive activities."
VIOLENT DEATHS IN KAPITI
Izak Millanta, 17, was beaten in Kapiti Lights car park on August 11, then was found unconscious in a nearby car park. He died in Wellington Hospital a few hours later. Manawanui Stewart, 25, of Titahi Bay, is in custody charged with his manslaughter.
Sean Strongman-Lintern, 20, was fatally stabbed in Kapiti Lights car park on Saturday night. Tristim Eastham, 24, a labourer from Waitangirua, is in custody charged with his murder. Manawanui Stewart is also charged with intent to cause grievous bodily harm to Mr Strongman-Lintern on the night Izak Millanta died.
WHAT'S BEING DONE
Moves to curb alcohol-fuelled violence at Kapiti Lights:
- CCTV cameras, provided by police and Kapiti Coast District Council, have been installed at Kapiti police station overlooking Kapiti Lights car park
- Police are looking at increased lighting in the car park
- Police have beefed up their presence there at night
- Police are working with the council to make the district alcohol-free in public places between 9pm and 3am
- The council is employing a specialist to conduct an environmental safety audit of the area
- Police are seeking either a cancellation or postponement of the Retro Bar's licence or a reduction of its closing time from 3am to 1am.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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