Driver's ironic death shatters family

BY MAIKE VAN DER HEIDE
Last updated 13:42 22/03/2010
Phillips family
DEREK FLYNN/Marlborough Express
MOURNING FOR MUM: The children and partner of Penney Phillips are devastated by her death. From left are son Lloyd McKenzie, daughter Haylee McKenzie, partner Neil Jorgensen and son Grant McKenzie. Ms Phillips had five children and 11 grandchildren.

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The family of a mother and grandmother who once performed stunts in monster trucks are in disbelief that she was killed doing something as simple as driving home.

Penelope ("Penney") Rae Phillips, 51, was killed when a young driver who had allegedly fled from a police checkpoint smashed into her driver's-side door on the roundabout of Hutcheson and Nelson streets on Friday night.

She had been on her way home after dropping off a friend near Renwick, her partner, Neil Jorgensen, and children said yesterday.

He said Ms Phillips had done dangerous stunts in monster trucks they owned together, such as driving over other cars, so it was hard to believe she lost her life driving on a Blenheim street.

Gathered yesterday at the Blenheim home Ms Phillips shared with Mr Jorgensen, her children remembered a mum who would "drop everything for anyone" and who was present for all but three of her 11 grandchildren's births.

Photos of Ms Phillips were carefully arranged in the lounge by a family struggling to come to grips with the sudden tragedy.

"You just expect her to walk in, but she won't," her only daughter, Haylee McKenzie, said. Her mum's hair accessories, which she was always buying, remained in the bedroom where she left them. Ms McKenzie and her brothers were attempting to recall all the special nicknames Ms Phillips had for her grandchildren.

"It's the little things we're trying to remember," she said.

Mr Jorgensen said he had not been able contact his partner on Friday night and, knowing there had been a crash involving a white car like hers, called the police. They gave him the bad news to pass on to the family.

While Ms McKenzie said she was very angry at what had happened to her mother, Mr Jorgensen said he was, for the moment, "dumbstruck".

"There will be an angry period for everyone. But being angry and throwing a punch, so to speak, really does not achieve anything."

Mr Jorgensen, who had been in a relationship with Ms Phillips on and off for seven years, said she developed a passion for monster trucks after he and the family built yellow monster truck "Lil Toe" from little more than an abandoned wreck.

She took children for rides in the yellow truck at public events and drove an even bigger truck, Big Bruvva. Ms McKenzie said Ms Phillips had hoped to use the trucks to raise money for a South Island plane to take children to Auckland's Starship Hospital.

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Ms McKenzie said the fundraising idea came after her son, Hayden, now 7, was injured in a car crash near Nelson last year.

Hayden was treated at Auckland's Starship Hospital and still had to go back for checkups, which his grandmother always attended. Ms McKenzie was heartbroken her mother would not be there for Hayden's next trip.

Originally of Te Kauwhata, Waikato, Ms Phillips was a nurse at Waikato Hospital before moving to Christchurch where her children were born. She then lived in Greymouth but moved to Picton after meeting Mr Jorgensen. The couple moved to Blenheim last August.

Ms Phillips is survived by Mr Jorgensen, her children Brad Phillips, Stuart McKenzie, Haylee McKenzie, Grant McKenzie and Lloyd McKenzie, 10 grandchildren and one step-grandchild. It is likely her funeral will be on Thursday and the family plan to take her on a last ride in Big Bruvva.

- The Marlborough Express

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