Student killed by train 'will be missed a lot'
MATT BOWEN, MARYANNE TWENTYMAN AND LOUISE RISK
Tears flowed and hugs were offered as stunned students huddled in quiet groups outside Matamata College this morning following the death of student Zakariah Paul Lang.
The year 11 student was hit by a train just metres up the road from the school yesterday afternoon.
But this morning parent Travis Ferguson was alarmed to see students still walking along and crossing the railway lines.
"I was surprised to see kids crossing the tracks and I do think it needs to be addressed by not only the school but the entire community," he said.
Ferguson said he hoped the speed of trains would be reviewed as they passed through town.
"I also think that they should look at sounding the train's horn as they pass by the college - anything to keep the kids safe."
The former Queensland paramedic did not envy the emergency services staff that attended yesterday's tragic accident.
"I moved to New Zealand with my family for lifestyle reasons and I can tell you that owning a cafe is a far better lifestyle than dealing with callouts like that."
This morning a bright bouquet of flowers sat at the base of the tree near where the 15-year-old was hit as he walked onto the tracks with two friends before 3pm.
Back at Matamata College staff could be seen in a staffroom briefing before school, where details of a school assembly to discuss the tragedy were outlined.
Students spoke of being in "shock" following the popular student's death. One girl who did not want to be named said Zak was a friendly guy with a good sense of humor.
"He was really well liked and he will be missed a lot," she said.
Matamata police Sergeant Graham McGurk said an autopsy was expected to be carried out this morning.
'A TRAGIC ACCIDENT'
Zakariah was skipping class with two friends when he was killed by the single locomotive.
The incident happened on a stretch of tree-shaded track running parallel to Firth Street shortly before 3pm, nearly half an hour before school finished.
Nearby residents thought the year 11 pupils may have been playing "chicken" with the train but McGurk rejected that, saying none of the boys heard it coming.
"It was a tragic accident. There was nothing to indicate anything like that."
Matamata resident Brooke Stanley was relaxing in her living room directly across Firth Street from the tracks when she heard a "huge thud".
The locomotive slowly screeched to a halt. She looked outside to see two boys in school uniforms, in a state of panic and rummaging in their school backpacks.
"I thought [the kids] had thrown some stones or something at the train because it looked like they were in trouble - they looked shocked and scared.
"Then the ambulance came in and went to the body. I could just see in from the lounge. I saw them cover it, then wrap it up and put it on a stretcher and carry him out. When the ambulance left I thought he's obviously dead."
The scene was sickening, she said.
She regularly walks her dog near the tracks, and said people can always hear "the high pitch" train noise coming from "ages away".
Another neighbour, whose eldest son was in Zakariah's class, had learnt from his friends that students had been known to play chicken with the trains.
Crossing the tracks was common practice too, she said.
Wayne Dickinson, who owns a butchery across the road, said he'd never seen anyone hit on the railway line, but had often noticed school kids walking along the tracks.
"It was an accident waiting to happen."
Mr McGurk said it appeared Zakariah came out of the trees and into the path of the southbound locomotive without warning, leaving the train driver with no chance of avoiding Zakariah.
The driver and two boys are all receiving support while the Ministry of Education will help students at Matamata College deal with the death.
School staff directed all enquiries to police last night.
Friends of Zakariah were reminiscing about old times with their friend over burgers last night.
"Zak" had an older brother and younger sister, they said. The described him as an "easy-going guy" who enjoyed skateboarding and hanging out with his mates and entertaining everyone with his great sense of humour.
Classmate Samara Smith-Rigir said Zak probably got into trouble with teachers from time to time because he was so busy entertaining everyone.
"He was pretty friendly and nice guy. He really liked talking. He did pretty well though - he always got good grades." She said he regularly left school at 3pm before the 3.20 bell.
McGurk said preliminary enquiries are under way and the boy's death has been reported to the coroner. KiwiRail last night said two staff on the train have been relieved of their duties and obviously it is upsetting for the driver when sorts of instances happen. These staff member will be receiving support.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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