Charges loom for driver rescued from flood

ANNA WILLIAMS
Last updated 10:50 03/08/2012
Geoffrey Wratte
ANNA WILLIAMS

Repairs: Hayden Thomas, 18, and girlfirend Danii Kilworth, 18, were rescued from flood water on Hammerichs Rd on Wednesday.

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A driver rescued from flood waters by firefighters on Wednesday night said he could have got out by himself with the help of mates, although police and senior firefighters disagree with him.

Hayden Thomas, 18, drove his Toyota Surf, with his girlfriend Danii Kilworth, 18, in the passenger seat, into a flooded section of Hammerichs Rd about 5.40pm. The 4x4 vehicle stalled and became stuck.

Friends Geoffrey Wratt, 19, and Melissa Edwards, 18, were behind them in a Toyota Hilux truck.

Mr Thomas and Ms Kilworth were in the 4x4 vehicle for another hour before volunteer firefighter Jason Fishburn pulled off a daring rescue.

"We would've managed on our own; we were going to get out: it was just a matter of time," Mr Thomas said yesterday.

"I've been around trucks for ages and I've been towed out of worse places than that.

"We'd hooked the tow rope onto the truck and were just waiting for Geoffrey to get close.

"I got out of the truck and attached the tow rope and was gonna attach it to Geoffrey's truck when the firemen turned up. We'd stayed in the truck while we waited for the tow, there was no point in us both getting wet.

"I've been in worse places than that" Hayden said.

His friend Mr Wratt echoes his feelings.

"I could have got them out within the first 10 minutes of the firemen getting there," he said.

The group go four-wheel-driving almost every night, but they usually go to Wairau River, he said.

"There's no difference driving there [Hammerichs Rd] and in the river," Mr Wratt said.

However Mr Thomas' girlfriend Ms Kilworth was grateful for the firefighters and paramedics who helped them, and said she was a bit more hesitant about going four-wheel-driving again.

"I'll definitely be more cautious in the future."

She had initially thought the water was just a "really big puddle".

"I didn't think it would be anything like what it was; it was more like a flowing river," she said.

Ms Kilworth said she told Mr Thomas to stop as they entered the water, but it was too late.

"We got stuck. The truck started filling up with water, and I was holding my bag above my head to keep it dry."

Though the Mr Thomas may think he could have got out unaided, a senior firefighter said the situation was too dangerous to leave them to it. And police say he may face charges.

Both drivers had gone past flood warning signs and around four large road cones about 100m before the water, although Mr Thomas said he recalled the sign saying flooding, rather than road closed.

Blenheim deputy fire officer Dion Partridge said: "It's legislation that if we get called out, we can't leave someone in what we believe is a dangerous or life-threatening situation. If someone died as a result, we would be held responsible."

That the car had turned sideways on a 1 -lane road would have made it difficult to tow out, he said.

"You've only got to drop into a hole or have it roll, and it's a whole different kettle of fish."

Marlborough Roads spokesman Wayne Oldfield said Hammerichs Rd was closed at both ends.

"Initial flooding signs were put out [on] Wednesday when there was water across the road, but not enough to close it. We would have changed the signs later when the flooding became a hazard," Mr Oldfield said.

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Constable Blair Yockney, of Blenheim said charges are likely for the driver of the vehicle that drove through the flood waters.

"It was a dangerous situation. [At the end] they'd realised they'd done a very stupid thing."

Mr Thomas went back at 9am yesterday to retrieve his truck from the water, which had receded to the top of the wheels.

He and Mr Wratt spent the afternoon repairing the 4x4.

The rain is expected to continue until tomorrow, with fine weather on Sunday.

 

- The Marlborough Express

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