One of the Bay of Plenty's most notorious criminals has died after overdosing on methamphetamine in Waikeria Prison.
The Sunday Star-Times has learned that Epi Ronaki, considered the main supplier of P for the western Bay of Plenty before his arrest last year, swallowed a bag of methamphetamine that had been thrown over the prison's wall.
Police sources say it appears the bag burst in his stomach. Staff found Ronaki, who was on remand awaiting trial on serious drugs and firearms charges, unconscious in his cell around lunchtime on Monday.
They administered first aid before calling an ambulance. Ronaki was taken from the prison near Te Awamutu to Waikato Hospital, where he died.
The Corrections Department did not make news of the death public, and when questioned by the Star-Times on Friday said the circumstances of Ronaki's death could not be discussed because it was the subject of a coroner's inquest.
Bryan McMurray, the department's acting regional manager, said Ronaki's family were advised and support for staff and prisoners would be provided.
"While rare, any event of this nature is upsetting to everyone," McMurray said.
The Corrections Department Inspectorate, which acts independently of Prison Services, would also investigate the death, he said, and an investigating officer from the Office of the Ombudsman would monitor the investigation.
There were 320 seizures of illicit drugs at Waikeria Prison between January 2006 and January 2007.
A professor of emergency medicine at Christchurch Hospital, Michael Ardagh, said that when a large amount of methamphetamine was released straight into the gut and the bloodstream there was not a lot that could be done. Ronaki's heart would have started racing, his blood pressure would have increased, and he may have died of a heart attack or bleeding to the brain.
Ronaki, from Te Puke, was considered one of the Bay's most dangerous and unpredictable criminals.
Armed police were called when a patrol in Tauranga pulled over a car in which he was a passenger at 1.30am on July 19 last year.
Ronaki fled on foot, discarding drugs as he went. When cornered he reached for a loaded 9mm semi-automatic pistol he kept in a holster, but surrendered when he was challenged by an armed officer.
Ronaki was due to appear in the High Court at Rotorua on October 1 for trial on charges of manufacturing methamphetamine, supplying methamphetamine, supplying LSD and possession of both drugs for supply, charges which carried a maximum sentence of life.
The Star-Times understands Ronaki's criminal career began when he was 14. He had multiple convictions for violence and drugs offences, and had repeatedly beaten his partner, putting her in hospital on more than one occasion.
A tangi for Ronaki, who had gang connections, is to be held today at Ngati Moko marae near Te Puke.
- Sunday Star Times