US crash survivor still in critical condition

CHRIS GARDNER, WAYNE TIMMO AND AMY MAAS
Last updated 10:24 22/09/2012
Kenneth Stithem

GOLDEN MOMENT: Kenneth Stithem and his wife Kirsten Steinke before their honeymoon in New Zealand.

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An American woman on honeymoon in New Zealand remains in a critical condition after a car crash which killed her husband.

Kirsten Steinke, 28, and Kenneth Stithem, 31, were travelling on Waitomo Caves Rd on Thursday when they overtook a stationary vehicle and collided with an oncoming cement truck.

Stithem was killed and his wife was cut out of the car by fire crews, before being taken to Waikato Hospital by air ambulance.

Steinke will undergo surgery at the hospital today and it is understood some of the couple's family will travel to New Zealand.

Steinke and Stithem were married five days ago in the US. Steinke worked as a marketing and communications co-ordinator at the University of Colorado Foundation.

It is understood they spent Wednesday blackwater rafting and joking with the chef at Curly's Bar in Waitomo.The chef, Bridget Brown, was shocked by the accident, after having met the couple on Wednesday evening.

"They joked about how each year they put a map on the table and a member of the family gets to pick a destination and this year it was the wife who chose New Zealand - the next morning they crashed into a truck."

The intersection is a busy one, used by motorists visiting the Waitomo Caves village and locals, including Brown, regard it as an accident black spot.

US embassy spokesman David Edginton expressed deepest condolences to the honeymooners' family and friends.

He said consular officers from Auckland were in contact with the families and were providing assistance.

TOURISTS WARNED OF KILLER CROSSROADS

Tourists to Waitomo are warned every day of the dangers of the King Country intersection where Stithem died and his new bride was left critically injured, as calls mount for roading authorities to improve the corner.

"When you go to turn out watch yourself, I say," The Legendary Blackwater Rafting Company tour guide Ross O'Halloran said.

The Waikato District Health board had been in contact with Steinke's workmates in Denver, Colorado and made an email and Twitter account available for messages to her. Details can be found at waikatodhb.health.nz/kirsten.

Waikato locals have regarded the intersection as an accident blackspot for years, but Stithem's death is the second there since the New Zealand Transport Authority changed the layout late last year.

O'Halloran said a pair of traffic islands had been installed and drivers often mistook them for a roundabout.

Such was the case with Canadian tourist Douglas Smith whose wife Michele was killed after their campervan and a truck collided at the same spot in February.

Fellow cave tour guide Zane Burdet, who has lived and worked in the area for 12 years, said the fatalities started after the road layout was modified.

"The solution is to put a 'major crash area, slow down to 70kmh' sign up and then police it," he said.

Waitomo District Council member Pat Hickey lives nearby on Te Kumi Rd and wasn't surprised to hear of another fatality.

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"When you pull out of there you have got to look three or four times before you pull out. The traffic coming from Te Kuiti comes so fast. A lot of people wanting to turn right to Te Kuiti turn left to Otorohanga and turn around up the road just to be safe."

Deputy Mayor Allan Goddard said the intersection would be discussed at next week's council meeting.

"We will lobby the Transport Agency (NZTA) to have another look at it and see if there are other options that are safer because it is a high risk intersection."

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