Hitchhiker attack linked to Woolston murder?

STACEY KNOTT
Last updated 15:35 31/03/2014

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A violent attack on two West Coast hitch-hikers may be linked to the murder of a woman whose body was found in a Christchurch supermarket car park.

A 38-year-old man is in custody after allegedly attacking two hitch-hikers on the West Coast yesterday and threatening to set himself and his car alight during a five-hour standoff with police.

Police are also investigating whether there is a link to an attempted assault of a hitch-hiker at Rabbit Island on March 6.

No charges had been laid yet, but Tasman District Commander Superintendent Richard Chambers said the man, who was from the lower North Island, was being spoken to by police.

Two woman hitchhikers found seriously injured near Franz Joseph were now recovering in hospital.

Chambers said he visited the two West Coast victims this morning. "Naturally they are very relieved to know we have apprehended this man.

"However, they are still extremely traumatised and upset after what they have been through."

Police were providing the women with as much support as possible, including Victim Support and liasing with families and embassies.

The women would be formally interviewed once their conditions had improved, Chambers said. 

Meanwhile, Detective Inspector Tom Fitzgerald confirmed Christchurch detectives were working with West Coast police as they believed the incident was linked to the discovery of a body in a car in Woolston yesterday.

Police today named the Christchurch victim as Amy Elizabeth Farrall, 24, of Woolston.

Fitzgerald confirmed this morning that Farrall knew the man arrested on the West Coast.

Fitzgerald said Farrall was reported missing on Saturday afternoon by an acquaintance.

Inquiries led to the discovery of her car in the car park of the New World Woolston supermarket. Her body was found in the boot of the car, Fitzgerald said.

The vehicle had since been removed from the car park and would be forensically examined today.

A scene examination was also continuing at Farrall's Woolston house, and an autopsy would be carried out today, Fitzgerald said.

Friends of Farrall took to social media to express their shock and grief.

Her partner wrote that Farrall was his "beautiful soul mate". 

"I love you with all my heart. I know your watching over me and will always be by my side. Fly high and be happy and smile down on us," he said.

A relative at Farrall's family home in Halswell said the family were "completely devastated". They declined to speak further this morning, but said the family would be making a public statement through police later today.

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HITCHHIKERS FOUND STABBED, WITH BROKEN BONES

The arrest of a man on the West Coast came after two hitchhikers were found stabbed and with broken bones near Franz Josef, in South Westland, yesterday afternoon.

A 28-year-old German woman and a 27-year-old woman of Japanese origin had been picked up while hitchhiking at Whataroa earlier in the afternoon.

Chambers said the hitchhikers were found near Franz Josef by members of the public, including a nurse, about 4pm.

One woman had life-threatening three stab wounds to her neck and the other had pelvic injuries which were believed to have happened as she escaped the vehicle.

"It was close, any injury to the neck is one that can be touch and go," Chambers said.

HITCHHIKERS 'BOUNCED' OUT OF TRUCK

Sue Hocken told the Otago Daily Times (ODT) she was driving through Franz Josef yesterday when she saw two women being "bounced" out of a truck. 

She did not know whether the women had been pushed or if they had jumped. 

"I was just driving the car and the passenger door was open on the truck that was coming towards me and then something fell out. I thought it was a backpack ... a bag of rubbish ... just something quite big," she said.

"I thought 'something's not right', so I turned round and as I came back, he [the driver] had done a U-turn."

Hocken then saw the two women lying motionless on the ground. Both appeared to be traumatised and in "major pain".

"It was pretty horrendous . . . they weren't moving; they were just making noises."

One woman asked for help, and the pair were comforted by two nurses who arrived on the scene within minutes. 

Hocken told the ODT she understood the two injured women had been travelling alone, but met up in Nelson and hitchhiked together from there.

DRIVER DOUSED HIMSELF IN PETROL 

Police started a search for the blue Nissan Terrano the women had been picked up in, using all available staff and setting up roadblocks on State Highway 6.

A helicopter and plane were also used in the search.

The vehicle was spotted at 8.30pm by police south of Fox Glacier but took off, with police pursuing.

The driver came across a roadblock at Paringa and turned and headed north again, police said.

Another roadblock was set up at Karangarua River, 25 kilometres south of Fox Glacier, to prevent the driver entering the town. The driver stopped, 90 minutes after the chase started.

Armed police surrounded the vehicle and began negotiating with the man, while armed offenders squad members were flown from Tasman, Dunedin and Christchurch to help.

"He was throwing things out the window that he had set alight," Chambers said.

The man had also doused himself in petrol, as well as his vehicle and the road around him, and was carrying a lighter.

The standoff lasted more than five hours before police used "sponge rounds", similar to rubber bullets, and deployed a police dog to overpower the man.

He was finally arrested about 3am.

"This was one of those touch-and-go situations," Chambers said.

"My staff here done a fantastic job. It was dangerous, it was tense."

The arrested man was not believed to have any connections to the West Coast.

The two victims were this morning in Grey Base Hospital in stable conditions. Police said they were recovering well and would be interviewed today.

Police have seized the vehicle and were working to establish what weapons the man had.

"The two ladies showed a huge amount of bravery," Chambers said.

"They're lucky women. This kind of thing shouldn't happen in our country."

Chambers confirmed the man had petrol and a knife.

SHOCK TO WEST COAST COMMUNITY

The south Westland community was ''absolutely shocked'' by the brutal attack said Glacier Country Tourism Group deputy chairman Wayne Costello 

"All I know is it seemed more like Los Angeles than Franz Josef yesterday because there were cars whizzing through and sirens.''

He said the community wanted to offer its support and help to the women and their families.

"We obviously haven't spoken to the girls but if there is anything we can do to help them through this, we will. It's happened in our backyard and we don't like people to have bad experiences here when good experiences are the norm."

WITNESS: CONCERN FOR WOMEN

A woman from the Westland town of Whataroa said she saw the two hitchikers being dropped off in the township mid-afternoon yesterday by a Whataroa local.

A single man in a blue car picked them up soon afterwards.

They were attractive women and concerns crossed her mind when she saw them picked up, she said.

"Seeing two girls hitchhiking and getting into a car with a single guy, you just have that thought 'if it was me, I'd refuse and only get into a car with a woman driver'," the witness said.

"They were very nice looking girls."

She thought they were dropped off about 4pm or before. She was unsure where they had previously been picked up.

The woman declined to name the local who dropped them off.

She said Whataroa locals were nervous last night until police apprehended the alleged offender.

"It's pretty scary for a small town and for the whole of south Westland, really. Everyone was locking their doors last night."

Police spoke with her yesterday about seeing the hitchhikers.

- Fairfax Media

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