Family of drowned toddler pleaded for fence
CLIO FRANCIS AND KIRSTY JOHNSTON
A family hit by a drowning tragedy had repeatedly pleaded with the council to build a fence where a toddler died.
Sukhraj Singh, 2, died and his cousin Achilles Kaui, 3, remains in hospital in a critical condition after the pair wandered into Gisborne's Taruheru River on Thursday.
"I've been asking myself all night, would this have happened if the fence was put up in our neighbourhood? And the answer is no. Because those toddlers would not have been able to get past the fence", Sukhraj's uncle Hemi Jahnke said.
Mr Jahnke said the family was still trying to piece together the events which led to the tragedy.
"I got a phone call from one of the neighbours down the road saying, 'I think your nephew has drowned and I think another boy has drowned as well, you better come home'."
By the time they arrived at the hospital, doctors were frantically trying to resuscitate Sukhraj.
"They went on for an hour before they stopped. It was intense. He had all these tubes stuck in him. He was only two years old," Mr Jahnke said.
In the next room, more medical staff were working on the little boy's cousin, Achilles.
"Achilles was attached to all these machines [when we saw him]. They'd managed to get a pulse and get him going again."
Before the tragedy, Achilles' mother, Diana McIntyre, had been visiting Sukhraj's mother, Jamie Taewa, at her home in Atkinson St. It was thought about 10 to 15 minutes passed before the women noticed the two toddlers had wandered off.
Sukhraj and Achilles were found floating face-down in the river, which borders Atkinson St, by 16-year-old Ani Jahnke, Hemi's niece.
"She found them and [Achilles'] father came afterwards.
"She jumped into the water to get them. It was high tide. She pulled them out.
"She's still shocked."
Members of the family were part of community group Kia Kaha Mangapapa, a charitable trust started to try to make a positive difference in the area. The idea of a fence at the reserve was brought up at several hui called with Gisborne District Council last year. Achilles' parents, Ms McIntyre and Frank Kaui, attended one of the meetings.
Mr Jahnke said the council had agreed to put up the fence.
"They did have a plan for the fence but because the fence was going to cost too much it started getting smaller and smaller. Eventually it turned into just a fence around the culvert."
He was angry with the council.
"How many lives have been lost in river accidents because the council says they haven't got enough money?
"And them listening now is not going to bring back Sukhraj. It's not going to bring back a baby boy. But someone needs to be held accountable."
Gisborne District Council acting chief executive Nedine Thatcher-Swann said it was "inconclusive" whether fencing the reserve would have made a difference at this stage.
"Around the country and the world it is very unusual to find our natural environments – rivers, lakes or ponds – fenced."
A council spokeswoman said there had been an issue with financing a possible fence around the river but the council had come up with some money.
But the council was "not sure exactly" what decision had been made and was investigating what had been discussed at the meeting.
In August 2010, four-year-old Lucas Ward's body was found in Gisborne's Waimata River only 400 metres from his grandparents' home where he went missing.
The scene of Thursday's death was the same place a seven-year-old boy drowned in the early 1990s when he slipped off the riverbank while playing with friends.
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