It began with a derailed train, and ended with two escaped prisoners.
October was a month of mayhem in the Manawatu, where stories of liberated chickens ran alongside the heartening tale of a woman saved by her dog.
This report begins in Levin, when the earth shook as a goods train lurched off the main trunk line leaving a wake of twisted iron, shattered sleepers and a very shaken driver.
A "wobbly rumbly," noise was said to fill the air as eight front wagons were pushed from the tracks at about 2pm on the 14th.
Locals described the sensation as an "earthquake gone wrong," with one woman noting an orange dust cloud looming above her as she hurried down the street.
The tracks were twisted and iron sleepers lay in splinters, while barley bound for a brewery poured out of the wagons. No-one was injured.
Ontrack declined to comment and has yet to give a cause for the accident.
* In Palmerston North feathers were flying, with the story of the chicken "liberator."
Self-styled activist Mark Eden was on trial for burglary, after he and nine other Open Rescue activists broke into a Foxton battery hen farm and stole 20 chickens, distributing them among "safe" homes.
The court heard how the animal activists, wearing boiler suits and dust masks, raided the rearing shed of Turk's poultry farm and put some of the 13,770 hens into black cardboard boxes in November 2006.
Eden represented himself at the trial, placing battery farm owner Johannes Turk on the stand for cross-examination. He questioned Turk on the health of the bald birds, quoting animal welfare codes.
"You're being charged here, not me. To you people, you shouldn't eat eggs, you shouldn't eat meat . . . You're anti-everything," retorted Mr Turk.
In his defence, Eden said he was liberating the chickens. "I'm not disputing I went into the shed, what I am disputing is my intent."
A jury found Eden guilty within 15 minutes of retiring in the three-day trial. He was sentenced to 150 hours community work and ordered to pay $180 compensation. This was followed by a picket outside, involving a chicken suit and banners.
* In court on more serious charges was police officer Timothy Hesketh, who was found guilty of dangerous driving after he slammed on the brakes in a prison van, fracturing a prisoner's back.
Constable Hesketh's "braking without cause," in November 2007 was found responsible for the paralysis of 46-year-old Mark Edwards, who suffered a fractured dislocation of the spine. It left him with a loss of sensation and paralysis in all four limbs.
Mr Edwards had been arrested for resisting a trespass order while drunk at a former girlfriend's home.
The jury agreed Hesketh's braking sent an unrestrained and handcuffed passenger flying into the wall of the van. He was not guilty of the more serious charge of reckless disregard causing grievous bodily harm.
After the verdict, Mr Edwards said Hesketh "got off lightly", but at least it was something.
"He didn't mean to break me fricken neck really, did he? I suppose . . . he didn't hit those brakes with the intention of breaking my neck."
Hesketh resigned from his job three days before being sentenced in the Palmerston North District court on 15 December to seven months' home detention .
* There was more prison van drama near the end of October, but this time the scene shifted to Shannon.
Dogs and helicopters were called out after Levin's Debden Wamoana, 26, and Foxton Beach's Jay Solomon, 18, forced open the van's back door and jumped out.
The pair were being driven from Manawatu Prison to Levin District Court when they seized the opportunity to escape in the Horowhenua town.
Locals saw the men roll out of the moving van, scramble up and race down Ballance Street just before 9am.
"I saw this guy in the middle of the road flat out and he got up and took off," said Club Hotel owner Brian Bishop.
Others didn't want to miss the opportunity for some home footage.
"I just wanted to see some action, get in there, get filming," an unidentified Shannon woman enthused.
Solomon, 18, was caught at a Shannon address two days later, while Wamoana was on the loose for another two weeks.
A police investigation revealed a "vehicle fault."
"Steps are being taken to ensure that other vehicles aren't susceptible to the same fault," police rural area commander Inspector Mark Harrison said. "We won't discuss the specifics of the fault for security reasons."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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