The partner of a man killed when he crashed into a power pole after a rugby club party is struggling with guilt as well as grief.
The last thing Lisa Lutherus said to Adrian "AJ" Ihaka, her partner of three years, was: "We'll talk about it when we get home, hon," after he asked her to move in with him.
She planned to accept, but wanted to discuss it first. But Ihaka took off before she could explain, and seconds later he was dead.
"My guilt overruns my heartache," she said through tears, remembering how a fun evening in honour of the Eketahuna Rugby Club's 125th anniversary on Saturday night ended in tragedy.
Lutherus said reports Ihaka, 36, left in a rage after arguing with her were wrong, and the burnouts he did leaving the rugby clubroom car park were just "what he does - he's the burnout king".
"It was just a question he asked, and he didn't like my answer, but it was not out of anger [that he left]."
The couple had enjoyed a day with friends and family at the anniversary celebrations. "It was a good day, we were on a good buzz. We were having fun . . . we were listening to the music and dancing."
But during the evening Ihaka referred to a proposal he had made that Lutherus move in with him permanently, asking: "What about it, hon?"
Upset at her answer, he got into his car. She tried to explain that she just wanted to talk the move over properly first, but he "was gone".
"I didn't have a chance to stop him. I chased him but he couldn't hear me."
Ihaka drove 600 metres down the road and crashed into a power pole on the corner of Herbert St and Alfredton Rd about 10.30pm. The car and pole were badly damaged and Ihaka was pronounced dead at the scene.
Ihaka's older sister, Mandie, said her only brother was an "awesome uncle" to her children, whose father died two years ago, and a hands-on father to his children, aged 12 to 17. "He wasn't one of these dads who see their kids once a year . . . he'd take the kids eeling, male role model-type things."
Lutherus said she met Ihaka, who sold firewood, at a rugby game in Eketahuna. "He had a good life; he loved his family and his friends. He was such a carefree spirit, he always had the same grin. He was full of life."
Ihaka's mother, Liz Corlett, said the loss of her only son had been especially hard after the killing of her daughter Kim by Kim's partner in the late 1990s.
Sergeant Glenn Ryan said the serious crash unit was still investigating, but a preliminary scene examination indicated alcohol and speed were factors.
- The Dominion Post